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for Sunday, August 19, 2007

Birthday Fun


"Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest."

- Larry Lorenzoni

"Happy birthday to you."

Okay, maybe not to you per se, but I figure there's a pretty good chance that someone reading this column is having a birthday today. It's an exceedingly rare day when I don't e-mail wishes for a happy birthday and many more good years to come to someone and usually several someones in our comics community. In an industry frequently unkind to its most precious resource - comics creators - it's a quick, simple way to spread a little sunshine.

That's the "why" of my fondness for wishing industry friends and heroes all the best on their natal anniversaries. To uncover the secret origin of this fondness, we must go back a few decades. Sherman, set the WABAC machine for 1975.

I was not quite on staff at Marvel Comics in the early part of that year, having left my position as editor of a good chunk of the company's magazine line. As I was somewhat useful to have around, I was given office space in a remote corner of the Bullpen. One of the projects I wrote and edited during this time was The Mighty Marvel Bicentennial Calendar, a thing of wonder with amazingly cool pin-ups by our best artists, showing Marvel heroes, including Conan, fighting for liberty during the Revolutionary War...and a smattering of historical and Marvel Universe facts. It even got a favorable review in Penthouse. Don't look at me like that. I only bought the magazine for the reviews.

We included the birthdays of a whole bunch of Marvel writers, artists, and editors on the calendar pages, taken from a list given to me by the office. By the time the calendar was published, I had moved back to my hometown of Cleveland. I would move back to New York in 1976, but only for the several months it took me to realize I really didn't want to live in New York. That's not important to this particular story; it's just me being obsessive.

Living in Cleveland, feeling disconnected from the rest of the comics world, I thought it would be neat to send birthday cards to the folks back in New York. I would send them to the creators care of the Marvel Comics office and they would be duly forwarded to the writers and artists. Among the initial recipients was Gene Colan, truly one of the all-time greats, a tremendous talent who'd been drawing terrific comics since the mid-1940s.

Imagine my surprise when Gene sent me a note thanking me for the card and telling me that, in all his years in the business, it was the first time anyone he'd worked with had sent him a birthday card. Encouraged, I sent out dozens of cards over the next couple years and got back many a delighted response.

Alas, my card-sending fell by the wayside soon after I bought a comic-book store in downtown Cleveland. Between writing comics and running my store, I couldn't keep up with the birthdays of even my closest industry pals. Even my lingering guilt was soon buried beneath the growing mountains of comic book boxes I had to contend with each day. The years flew by.

Now it's 1993. Edited by Don and Maggie Thompson, Comic-Book Superstars featured information on hundreds of creators. The brief entries included birthdays and birthplaces, education, biggest creative influences, past and current projects, and more. There were scores of photos, many of them suitable for blackmail or, at the very least, acute embarrassment.

Comic-Book Superstars was a way spiffy book and, it ended with a month-by-month listing of creator birthdays. I was so impressed by this section I suggested the then-weekly CBG run "This Week's Birthdays" listings, a feature which has grown to include additional superstars and which remains part of the magazine. I confess I had an ulterior motive for the suggestion, but I couldn't fully put my master plan into operation until I mastered the arcane mysteries of the Internet. I'm still working on that.

However, I have learned how to e-mail birthday wishes to those comics creators I know, have worked with, or whose comics I admire. Every week back then, I would add the birthdays published in CBG to my own list, a list I maintain to this day.

My industry friends often express awe when I remember them on their birthdays, but this is so easy that even an unfrozen caveman comics columnist like me can do it. Every morning, as I go through my ritual of "getting ready to work," I check my list to see who's having a birthday today. Then I check CBG's online list of comics industry birthdays to see if any new ones have been added. If they have, I add them to my list. Likewise, if I know new birthdays CBG doesn't have yet, I e-mail the information to Brent Frankenhoff and Maggie Thompson. My list is mine, mine, mine. Their list can be found at... "The Knowledge Base" folder.

Once I know who the birthday boys and girls are, it only takes a few minutes to write and e-mail them with good wishes for their special days and in the years to come. All I need is their e-mail address or the URL of their home page - most people in comics have one, the other, or both - and I can do my little bit to brighten their day. It makes me feel pretty good, too.

Creating comic books or even writing about them is generally a lonely business. That's one of the reasons the Internet caught on so quickly and completely with fans and pros alike. A friendly e-mail from a reader or a colleague can make my day and inspire me to work that much harder on whatever I'm writing.

Spread the sunshine. That's my biggest tip for this month's column. You'll be glad you did.

And don't be shy about sending your birthday information or that of your own favorite comics creators to me. I've got plenty of room on my list.

Happy birthday to you, whenever your birthday is.



If the above segment seems a mite short for one of my "Tony's Tips" columns, that's because it was written shortly after the wee stroke I suffered in May. Brent Frankenhoff and Maggie Thompson, my editors at CBG, offered to cobble together a column from reviews I'd written for CBG's online forums. It was a kind offer, but I still felt I had to write something new for the column...and the above is what I wrote.

There are times when I seriously consider ending my print and online columns. I still enjoy writing them, but they aren't paying too many bills around Casa Isabella. Then Brent and Maggie will do something like the above and remind how much I've enjoyed working with them all these years.

I guess it can't always be about the dead presidents.


ANGEL: AULD LANG SYNE Guest review by Steve Leavell

Auld Lang Syne


Remember the golden era of the early years of this century when TV viewers could enjoy two full hours of rich, Joss Whedon-y goodness every week? And how, near the end of this blessed age, Buffy scampered to the late UPN, leaving Angel behind on the now equally late WB network, so that the two previously linked programs remained vaguely aware of each other, but full-scale crossovers came to an end?

Well, a similar situation now obtains in the realm of comic adaptations with Buffy gathering great notice with the Season 8 comics managed by Whedon himself at Dark Horse and Angel continuing with a lower profile series of minis at IDW.

The fourth installment of these minis, Auld Lang Syne, has been recently released in trade paperback format, with story by Scott Tipton and art mostly by David Messina, two names with which I was previously unfamiliar.

The strong point of the story is the dialog, which is close enough to the show's that it's easy to "hear" the voices of David Boreanaz and James Marsters as Angel and Spike. Although this is branded as an Angel story, fan-favorite Spike is as important to the tale.

The weak point is the plot, which hinges on two factors which have been done to and even beyond death in the Buffyverse and other places: the are-they-or-aren't-they "return" of emotionally charged supporting characters from Angel's and Spike's pasts, and "psychic vampires," which have become at least as much of a cliche as the more sanguinary types. To an extent, the whole point seems to be to maneuver the two heroes into an encounter similar to what used to happen every time Marvel characters met. Heroes meet, fight, then team up against the real enemy.

The art is serviceable with the likenesses being first rate, and the storytelling and action maybe a bit less so. Pages 49-70, which comprised issue three of the original five-issue mini are drawn by Elena Casagrande. The art is so close to Messina's that I'm not sure I would have noticed the change if the credits didn't reflect it. On close examination, maybe the likenesses are a tad weaker and the storytelling stronger in what might be called the "All-Out Action Issue" of the mini-series.

With Angel and Spike starring, the book uses what has become a standard device of colored captions to show dueling first-person narration. Writer Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman was the first time I recall seeing this; it worked well there and it works well here. A lettering choice that is less successful is the use of a stylized negative font for another character. It makes the dialog difficult to read, at least for my aging eyes.

The story works better as a collection than as five separate issues, but its problems are perhaps best summed up in its title, Auld Lang Syne. It's nice to see these old friends again, but I wish they had something new and different to say.
Thanks, Steve.

Watch for more of these guest reviews in upcoming columns. If you'd like a chance to score some swag in exchange for writing one of them, keep watching my message board at:



Most every week, there are new Tony Polls questions for your entertainment and edification. I'm way behind in giving you the results of past polls, but I'll try to catch up over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, we continue our TOT tradition of asking you to vote on TV's Emmy Awards. There are 15 categories left for you to weigh in on and the questions will remain active until sometime after midnight on Monday, August 20.

You can cast your votes by going to:



Today's e-mail is from John Randy Barrett:

Welcome back from hiatus, Tony.

As a long time reader of both your comics writing and your CBG columns, I have a request. Could you please bring back "Marvel Mondays?" I came to like that weekly feature and miss it greatly. In any case, take care.

Thanks, Randy.

For those of you who aren't familiar with "Marvel Mondays," which were later re-titled "Marvel 1966," you can read the previous installments here:

And here:

I really enjoyed writing the "Marvel 1966" columns, but they were time-consuming and, at the moment, I can't put aside my paying work to write more of them. Once I get far enough ahead on my "day job" - which, fortunately, seems to involve more paying work every month - I hope to resume writing those columns and maybe even find a venue which will pay me to write them. It isn't all about the dead presidents, but it's not all about the love either. Which is not to say I don't enjoy my "day job" because it, too, is something which allows me big fun and satisfaction.

Speaking of which...

I just got another chunk of work from my "day job" and will be concentrating on it for the next several days. I'm going to try to write a few columns as well, but, if TOT sightings get a bit scarce for a while, that's why. My health remains excellent, I'll surely outlive my enemies, and life is good.

I know how you worry about me, God bless you.

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

Tony Isabella

<< 08/16/2007 | 08/19/2007 | 08/27/2007 >>

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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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