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for Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Saavedra Card 2004

Today's TOT started out as my annual Christmas column, but I stopped writing when it began reading more like an anti-Christmas column. That was over a week ago.

I was finding it difficult to write about "peace on Earth" and "good will towards men" less than two months after some 59 million of my fellow Americans voted for the antithesis of those sentiments in the form of George Bush. I could understand if those voters had been from, say, the Bizarro World - "Us love ugliness!" - but they were apparently actual American citizens who inexplicably chose to support a candidate who ran on a platform of bigotry, callousness, fear, and privilege. I'll try to forgive them because that is what Jesus - the real deal, not the hate-mongering thug worshiped by the religious right - would want me to do, but I'm not sure I can ever trust them again.

I took a few more stabs at writing a Christmas column for you. I considered entertaining you with scores of comic-book covers with holiday themes, but decided against duplicating what so many other websites were doing so well. I thought of sharing Christmas cards with you - and I'm doing a little of that today - but that wasn't lifting me from my holiday melancholy either. I began wondering if the joy of the season would elude me completely.

I'm pausing here to build suspense.

Let me know if it worked.

As the suspense builds, I should mention that today's opening Christmas card was lifted from SCOTT SAAVEDRA'S COMIC BOOK HEAVEN [], one of the most consistently fun blogs in comics. You should visit Scott's blog frequently and also buy his books and magazines. I'm pretty sure that's what you-know-who would do.

So how did Tony get his holiday groove back?

Family and friends and work.

Sainted Wife Barb was nothing short of amazing as the holidays drew ever closer. She worked long hours in order to get a few days off from her job. She baked cookies, she shopped for presents, she wrapped presents, and she even found time to take me and the kids to Damon's - "the place for ribs" - on my birthday.

Eddie and Kelly - my kids and two unimpeachable reasons why no one should have voted for Bush - helped around the house and with the holiday shopping and wrapping we had to do. They also kept it low key around the house while I worked on the assignments I had to finish before the holidays.

Christmas itself was one of the most joyous Christmases of my life. It started with the early-morning opening of the gifts and the delighted smiles of my beloved Barb and our kids. Against her express orders, we bought Barb the Dyson vacumn cleaner she'd been eying for months.

We've had the worst luck with vacumn cleaners over the years. At one time, we had four of them in the house and not one of them worked properly. Stores delivering vacumn cleaners to other homes instruct their drivers not to drive within a mile of Casa Isabella for fear our vacumn cleaner destroying radiation will cause crucial components of their Hoovers and Kirbys to disintegrate.

The Dyson is the Holy Grail of vacumn cleaners. We've had it for several days now and - fingers crossed - it hasn't broken down. Our next step is to take it out of the box.

Grumpy Sweatshirt

I got some pretty neat swag myself. Barb surprised me with a few books from my Amazon Wish List, a list I mentioned to her maybe once six or seven months ago. When Barb wants a specific gift, she practically has to rub my face in the actual item until I remember its scent.

This is why she is *sainted* and I am merely beloved.

Weird U.S.

Among my favorite Christmas gifts were the Grumpy sweatshirt pictured above - more than ever, I feel a bond with this particular cartoon character - and Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman's WEIRD U.S.: YOUR LOCAL TRAVEL GUIDE TO AMERICA'S LOCAL LEGENDS AND BEST KEPT SECRETS [Barnes & Noble Books; $19.95]. The authors of the latter traveled all across the country finding the odd, the offbeat, and even the sinister corners of the United States. It's a fascinating book and fun for the whole family. I'm especially confident of the "whole family" part of that pre-review praise, mostly because, when I've wanted to read this tome, I've had to track down which member of my family was reading it last.

Our next stop of the day was Sts. Phillip and James Church, my church from when I was a youngster and still a practicing Catholic. I appreciate the foundation the Church gave me, but it doesn't have any claim on me anymore, not after discriminating against gays and women, not after protecting and covering up for pedophile priests while disregarding their victims, not after condemning Bush's war in Iraq and yet supporting him on the basis of his and the church's dubious claims of moral values. See what I mean about this being not precisely the happy and joyful Christmas column that I couldn't write over a week ago?

One of my 2005 resolutions is to find a church which actually believes in loving one's neighbor and trying to do what Jesus would do. I'm leaning towards the United Church of Christ and I'll let you know how that works out. Don't panic; this column isn't gonna turn into TONY'S ONLINE SERMONS, well, not any more than it already has. Comics and popular entertainment will still be the focus of next year's TOTs, albeit informed by the world around me and thee. Most of you seem to like it that way.

In any case, we went to Phillip and James because it was close to my boyhood home where my parents still live. The parish school closed well over a decade ago and the parish numbers are dwindling. It's an old church, showing its years but putting up a brave front, more than a little chilly. The pastor had a friendly style and he seemed like a decent guy. Decent guy, wrong church, which can also describe many Republicans. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.

The best - though bittersweet - part of the Christmas church-going was seeing the father and sister of my childhood and teenage pal Jim Bjaloncik. His father is in a wheelchair and not doing so well - I'm not sure he remembered me - but he and his family were an important part of my young life. His sister was a sassy little kid when I was a slightly older kid and she's still got a terrific attitude and smile. The past is always with us, no matter how much we might try to ignore it, but it's still nice to connect with it physically from time to time.

After church, it was one family gathering after another. We started at my parents' house with a cast of characters consisting of them, four of their five children (me, my older sister, and my two younger brothers), their seven grandchildren, my Uncle Fred and Aunt Kathy, and a big dog. Two cats remained in hiding the entire time. The best moment for me was my mother's delight at a blanket Eddie and Kelly had made for her and my dad.

From there, we went to my older sister Carrie's house so that her dog Lucy could get some exercise. Lucy is a clump of white fur with a cute little black nose. She's small and loud and I like her a lot. I wonder why.

Our final stop of the day was the home of my boyhood pal Terry Fairbanks and his wife Nora, who is Barb's aunt-who-is-more-like-her-sister. Barb and I met as members of Terry and Nora's wedding party three decades ago, so, naturally, they hold a special place in our hearts. This was another large gathering: 15 people and two dogs, one of them even smaller and louder than Lucy. That kind of dog used to annoy me, but I now embrace my obvious bond with those creatures who are bigger inside than out. However, after stuffing myself with great food all day long, the whole "bigger inside than out" debate became a moot issue.

The important thing is that I had well and truly recovered my holiday groove.

Zahler Card 2004

I have been writing about my traditional family here, but I am also blessed with an extended family of dear friends and readers. The Tuesday before Christmas, for example, I got together with best buddies Bob Ingersoll, Roger Price, and Thom Zahler for our annual holiday lunch. I somehow resisted the impulse to get all maudlin and tell them how much they mean to me, mostly because I know they know how much they mean to me.

My circumstances haven't allowed me to do as much convention-hopping as I used to do with them, but they are never far from my heart. Ingersoll, who believes he's an atheist, is one of the most truest Christians I know. Price has had a tough year - we lost his dad Chuck a little bit before Mid-Ohio-Con - but he still inspires hope and good fellowship from all around him. Zahler is someone I have watched grow from gangly teenager to fine man and equally fine artist and cartoonist. The card above was the one he sent out this year and you can see it and other Thom art, commentary, and news on his website:

I'm also blessed with great neighbors here in Medina and, as a result of my comics work and this website, great friends all over the globe. I may have grave concerns about the future of my nation and the world itself, but such concerns can't overwhelm my natural optimism when I can likewise reflect on the continued presence of such people in my nation and the world.

In the really short answer to the question of how Tony got his holiday groove back, I mentioned "work" even while realizing that was the one of these things that's not like the others. As we are some 1700 words into today's column, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love to write. I think I'm good at it, and enough other folks have agreed with me that I'm fairly confident on that score. Besides, the overhead is low.

I also love to get paid for my writing, a far more formidable endeavor than the writing. My success in that arena over the past couple years can be - fairly - described as underwhelming. You can lead an editor or publisher to water, but, for some odd reason, our society frowns upon you sticking their heads under said water until they give you a job.

I took a hit when COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE went from being a fine weekly newspaper to a fine monthly magazine, though my editors went over and above to minimize the hit. I went months without landing any additional work. Then, as December beckoned, I picked up a few small gigs in and out of the comics industry.

I still qualify as an "underemployed comics veteran," but the new work has been a welcome kick-start into the new year, giving me needed dollops of restored confidence and enthusiasm. It made for a hectic few weeks before the holidays, but it was the good kind of hectic and it got me back in the groove.

2005? Bring it on!

You know...

That would have been a good and uplifting note on which to end today's pseudo-Christmas column, but then I wouldn't get the chance to piss off a group of folks I really should have tried to piss off a long time ago.

I'm talking about those gaspoles who get their shorts/panties in a bunch whenever they see a manger on public property this time of the year. Will you just freaking get over yourselves and worry about the important stuff?

Yes, I'm concerned about the eroding separation of church and state in this country, but mangers at Christmas are as trivial as you can get. We have monsters in the White House and, instead of sharpening stakes, you're doing environmental studies on the effect of vampire dust on the flowers in the Rose Garden. Forgive me, but I'd gleefully whack every snail-darter, whooping crane, and manatee on Earth to be rid of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, and the rest of that evil bunch.

Priorities, people. Priorities.

I'm all for taking the jawbone of an ass to the Bible-sucking cretins who want to elevate creationism to science.

You can tax the mother-loving Holy Spirit out of churches who engage in inappropriate political activities.

I don't want to see dime one of our tax dollars going to any faith-based organization.

Take the wooden paddle with the holes in it to any principal or administrator who allows student-led Bible groups in our public schools while denying the use of school facilities to gay-straight alliances.

Let the folks who want to celebrate Christmas with mangers and stuff do so...just as long as we also let every other religion do the same on their holidays. All of which are a heck of a lot less secular than Christmas has become. You look like petty jerks when you bitch about this stuff and that is a role much better suited to the Bush bunch and their acolytes.

Get real and stay real.

Merry Christmas or whatever you prefer to celebrate. I hope you had or will have a wonderful time.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 12/22/2004 | 12/29/2004 | 12/30/2004 >>

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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.

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.

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