I will bid a not-so-fond farewell to 2004 this evening. While the year certainly had its good points - dear New York Yankees, neener, neener - it was not an overwhelming pleasant experience for me or the rest of the world. To spare you any further dismay, I'll save the elaboration for future columns.
One of the ending year's good points was what appears to COMIC BUYER'S GUIDE's successful transition from a weekly newspaper to a monthly magazine. Despite my title as "contributing editor," I am not privy to the publication's sales figures, but it is apparently doing well enough that my editors sent me a contract extending my contributions through the end of 2005. The contract even includes an incentive bonus which kicks in if I hit over 30 home runs while testing negative for steroids.
I'm a little over halfway through CBG #1601 [$5.99] as I write today's TOT and, as usual, the issue has much to recommend it. The coverage of the forthcoming ELEKTRA movie and other comics-related movies was just enough to satisfy/pique my interest. John Jackson Miller, Craig Shutt, and Andrew "Captain Comics" Smith are in the issue with fun columns; I likewise enjoyed the articles on anime, super-hero cartoons, Warren Tufts, and the Pink Panther. I'm just about to head into the price guide section with its copious reviews and trivia on comics old and new.
My contributions this time around are my "Tony's Tips" column (which will be posted online sometime in mid-January), a few extra reviews here and there, and "Tony's Back Page," a hopefully amusing feature which appears on the last page of the price guide section. It's been a while since I've shared these little ditties with you. Let's address that failing today.
SECRETS BEHIND THE COMICS
From CBG #1599:
SECRETS BEHIND THE COMICS was published in 1947. For one thin dollar, the price of ten comic books in those halcyon days, Timely managing editor/art director Stan Lee opened the door to the comics industry to readers and to wannabe writers and artists alike. The secrets ranged from "Who is Stan Lee?" and "How is a comic magazine born?" to "What happens inside a comic publishing house?" The 100-page book also featured "Startling Facts" about the comics and an amazing offer to have Stan himself give you a professional critique of your writing, art, or lettering for an additional dollar. Wotta deal!
I purchased my copy of SECRETS at a New York convention two decades after its publication, too late for me to take advantage of Stan's offer, not too late for the book itself to give me my first instruction in comics writing. Illustrated by Ken Bald, lettered by Mario Acquaviva, it's been a prized part of my collection ever since, especially after I went to work for Marvel in 1972 and asked Stan to autograph my copy.
"All the best to Tony Isabella - the fearless fella who's the thinking man's copy writer! Keep up the good work helping to put ol' Marvel on the map!"
HOW TO MAKE MONEY WRITING FOR COMICS MAGAZINES
From CBG #1600:
Robert Kanigher was one of the most prolific writers in the history of comics, but he also wrote radio programs, plays, prose stories, non-fiction articles, and more, including a series of books on how to make money from all those literary endeavors. Published in 1943 by Cambridge House, HOW TO MAKE MONEY WRITING FOR COMICS MAGAZINES was one such book.
Kanigher's 96-page book focused squarely on comics writing and not the wider scope of Lee's SECRETS BEHIND THE COMICS, published a few years later. Kanigher's slightly oversized paperback is more serious in its approach, including a complete Captain Marvel script and a complete Steel Sterling comics story with commentary on same. The book stressed writing to formula more than I would like, but it offered solid tips for its hopeful readers. Among its lessons: how to work with an artist, supplying the editor's wants, and mastering the "tools" of the trade.
I bought the book at a convention shortly before moving to New York to work for Marvel in 1972. I paid a visit to DC to get it autographed. Kanigher signed it thus:
"To Tony Isabella - may this fan your own genius."
I thanked Kanigher by paying homage to him in two of my Marvel stories: "Phantom of the Killer Skies" (GHOST RIDER #12) and "War Toy" (UNKNOWN WORLDS OF SCIENCE FICTION #2).
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
From CBG #1601:
Do the ends justify the means? I'm not going to try to answer that here, save to opine that a comic-book story which ends well will be long and often fondly remembered by readers. One of my big gripes about comics "epics" - and even some done-in-one issues - is writers who start with a great beginning and then fail to deliver a memorable conclusion. Allow me to share one of my favorite last pages with you.
It appeared in SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOES #18 [May, 1965]. "Killed in Action" was written by Stan Lee with art by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone (plus some last-page kibitzing by Jack Kirby). If that title didn't hint at the tale's conclusion, the cover copy, which proclaimed "Once again, sudden death claims another victim!" would've alerted even the world's worst detective.
Fury weighs a momentous decision while on a routine-but-still-harrowing commando mission. When he returns to England, he goes to the home of girlfriend Pamela Hawley to propose to her...only to learn that she has been killed in a bombing raid. Her last words, quoted to Fury by Pam's grieving father, still bring a lump to my throat four decades after I first read them.
"Tell my wonderful American sergeant how much I love him!"
I saw this ending coming a mile away. Fury and his squad had survived their mission. That left only Pam and Fury's commanding officer as the potential casualties and, given the whole "momentous decision" bit, I knew it was Pam. Despite that, the last page hit me like a punch to the gut. I gasped out loud when I read it and it's stayed with me ever since.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The year has ended in tragedy for the entire world with over 84,000 dead as the result of the fearsome earthquakes and tsunamis which struck East Africa and Southern Asia. Latest reports warn of more tsunamis and, even before these reports, the Red Cross feared the toll from the current crisis would top 100,000.
In his NEWS FROM ME weblog [www.newsfromme.com], Mark Evanier has done our homework for us and made the case for the RED CROSS as the best means for helping the survivors of this disaster. You can make your monetary donations here:
As Mark points out, money is what's needed. Donations of food or clothing bring with them the cost and problem of transporting them to the affected region.
Mark also asks that anyone who was planning to make a donation to his website double or triple that donation and send it, instead, to the Red Cross. I'll make the same request of anyone who planned to donate to this website.
Also...if you have a 1-click account with AMAZON.COM, you can use that to make your donation to the Red Cross. Amazon won't be taking any kind of handling charge here; 100% of your donation will go to the Red Cross. I went this route because it was so quick and convenient. Kudos to Amazon for its efforts here.
Thanks for any donations you make to the relief effort and for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with my first column of the new year.
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: