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for Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Richie Rich and Casper 10

From Comics Buyer's Guide #1660:

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

- Charles Dickens

Every year about this time, esteemed editor Brent Frankenhoff asks CBG to recommend five comics-related gifts they would give this holiday season and one they would like to receive. My immediate answer to the former was "five copies of 1000 Comic Books You Must Read by Tony Isabella" [Krause; $29.99]. The ever-patient Frankenhoff requested a more serious answer. Gee, you think he would know me better after all the years we've worked together.

In the spirit of the holidays, I will present other answers to Brent's question. But, first, I have a couple quick news items to share with you.

* Leo Nowak was a Cleveland artist who worked on some of the early Superman comics with creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. During the Great Depression, Nowak was also one of many artists who turned his skills to works commissioned by the U.S. government. As reported by Gabriel Baird in the September 9 issue of The Plain Dealer, a major work to which Nowak contributed is once again being prominently displayed in Cleveland.

"History of United States Locomotives" is a mural consisting of a dozen paintings, each of them four feet high, that takes the viewer from the days when trains were drawn along rails by horses to what was, in 1937, the most modern railroads. The artist Nowak assisted on this project was Earl Neff, best known as an expert in the study of UFOs. Neff believed in the existence of UFOs, but he also devoted some of his writings on the subject to exposing frauds in his area of interest.

The Neff/Nowak paintings now hang in the mezzanine level of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainman's Standard Building in downtown Cleveland. The artists were originally paid $750 for the paintings. In 2008 dollars, according to the online Inflation Calculator [], that would amount to $11132.19, which I'm guessing is less than, say, Alex Ross gets for just one painting.

* In previous columns, I have written of Taro Aso, the manga-loving Prime Minister of Japan. Most recently, I reported that he wanted to build a $150 million comics museum to preserve classic manga and anime. Alas, that admirable endeavor seems to be off the table for the immediate future.

Aso's Liberal Democrats, the pro-business, conservative party that has ruled the country for 54 years, was on the wrong side of last August's landslide election. Their opponents, the Democratic Party of Japan, will replace Aso as Prime Minister and form a new Cabinet. Given Japan's current economic woes, I suspect the manga museum won't be opening any time soon.

That's it for the news this column. Now let's go shopping for holiday gifts for the comics readers we love.

Editor Brent asked for five gifts I'd give and one I'd like to receive. In the holiday spirit, I'm going to write about a lot more than five and one.

William Randolph Hearst once said, "In suggesting gifts, money is appropriate and one size fits all." He had a good point there. If someone you know, like most every one I know, is hitting a few bumps in the economic road, money might well be the best gift you could give them. Or, if the comics fan you're buying for has such an enormous collection that you couldn't begin to know everything it contains, giving the fan money might well save them the effort of returning something they already have.

If you're going the gift certificate route, why not spread the joy in two directions? Give your fan friends gift certificates from your favorite neighborhood comics shop. I don't know of any comic-book store that couldn't use the business.

Most comics buyers also buy storage supplies for their comics: bags, boxes, and backing boards. These may not be the sexiest gift around, but they'll be used by your comics fan. He or she can use the money they saved on these supplies to buy even more comic books for themselves. You probably have your favorite brands, so go with what has worked for you.

Me? I'm in the frighteningly early stages of a massive project to organize my vast accumulation of stuff with an eye towards easy access. I'm starting to stockpile Drawer Boxes and liking them a lot. They and other sellers of comics supplies advertise in this very journal, so you'll have plenty of information on which to base your decisions.

The monthly Previews catalog is excellent for sparking ideas on gifts for comics fans. In the category of gifts I'd like to receive - and shifting into incredibly crazy mode for just a moment - the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation buys me one of every item in Previews so scientists can study the effects of such largess on my mental and physical health. One could write a paper just on my trying to explain the Japanese nurse figures to Sainted Wife Barb. There must be a limit to even her patience.

Dark Horse publishes some terrific comics collections in both soft and hardcover. I'm particularly fond of their books from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics: Herbie, Green Lama, Doctor Solar, Roy Rogers, Turok, Tarzan by Jesse Marsh, Little Lulu, Richie Rich, and in more volumes than I can afford. If you were buying these for me, I'd suggest anything after the first Creepy, Tarzan, and Turok volumes.

More contemporary? They also publish Star Wars, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sergio Aragones' Groo, Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. I bet your comics fan loves at least one of the above.

Dark Horse also produces some great figurines and other items based on classic comics characters. They're not alone in this, as you can also find wonderful "toys" from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and others. I'll usually buy figures of characters I created. In that regard, and with the full disclosure that I get a creator's royalty from the sale of same, I really like the original version of Black Lightning that DC released in August. If I had to choose one figurine I'd like to receive, it'd be the Herbie figurine from Dark Horse.

DC and Marvel publish most of the greatest super-heroes of all time, but their contemporary offerings with their emphasis on vast storylines often encompassing dozens of titles make their standard comics and collections daunting for even long-time comics readers.

Fortunately, you don't have to cross those companies of your list as both also publish great collections of material from the past. In DC's case, they also have their Vertigo imprint where darn near every one of its books can be enjoyed separately from the imprint's other titles. You can also find some choice offerings from their WildStorm imprint. If you are dead set on gifting your comics fan with contemporary DC or Marvel super-hero trades, ask your comics retailer and other comics friends to suggest collections that can stand on their own.

My DC gift suggestions: the Starman Omnibus volumes by James Robinson, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Bill Willingham's Fables, the Jonah Hex trades, Kurt Busiek's Astro City, and Brian K. Vaughan's Ex Machina. You'll also find lots of great Golden and Silver Age heroics in the DC Archives volumes and bargain-priced entertainment in the publisher's Showcase Presents books, which, in addition to the super-heroes, feature comics in the genres of horror, science-fiction, war, and western.

From Marvel: One of my favorite Marvel super-hero comic books in recent years is the set-in-its-own universe Spider-Girl. Start with the manga-sized paperbacks. Writer Tom DeFalco is a master of leaving no reader behind while telling stories featuring a sizeable cast of characters.

On the higher end, Marvel has published more than 100 Marvel Masterworks volumes reprinting their super-heroes of the 1960s and some choice goodies from the Golden and Silver Age, including two of my personal favorites: Rawhide Kid and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. Right now, I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of a book reprinting the 1950s Black Knight and Yellow Claw and another that reprints the first ten issues of Menace, a spooky anthology series featuring a whole bunch of Stan Lee stories.

One more Marvel recommendation. Before DC started publishing its Showcase Presents series, Marvel got there first with an ever-growing number of Essential books that seem likely to reprint every Marvel super-hero and fantasy title from the 1960s through 1980s. For around $20 a pop, you get over 500 pages of sometimes classic, sometimes not-so-classic comics. Even the lesser material can be great fun in these pleasingly thick volumes.

If you're still set on giving the gift of super-heroes, I can direct you to some collections that easily and wonderfully stand on their own: Thom Zahler's Love and Capes (IDW), Jay Faerber's Noble Causes (Image), Robert Kirkman's Invincible, (Image), and Mark Waid and Peter Krause's Irredeemable (Boom! Studios).

Is there a similar super-hero collection I'd like to receive? I'll pick the first volume of Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon archives. I've enjoyed issues here and there, but I've never gotten around to reading the series from the start.

If you want to make your comics fan feel like a super-hero, I recommend a donation in his or her name to the Hero Initiative, the firstever federally chartered notforprofit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comics creators in need. To learn about this non-profit organization, go to:

You can find gifts suitable for every reader, not just comics reader, by checking out the many fine comic-strip collections being published. With apologies to the publishers and strips I don't have room to mention, there's Peanuts, Popeye, Prince Valiant, and Dennis the Menace from Fantagraphics and Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, the Family Circus, and Bringing Up Father from IDW. A visit to your local Borders or other bookstore will offer collections of currently running strips. Mock me if you must, but that Garfield still cracks me up.

Looking for stocking stuffers for younger readers? If you can get over rolling up perfectly good comic books so that they fit in said stockings, you'll find kid-friendly versions of the Marvel and DC super-heroes. DC also publishes Scooby-Doo and a couple Cartoon Network titles. Archie Comics has the classic Archie characters as well as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sonic the Hedgehog. Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Scrooge are published by Boom! Studios, side by side with such more contemporary greats as The Incredibles, The Muppet Show, Cars, Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc.

Looking for a gift for someone from the Woodstock Generation? Fantagraphics is publishing The Complete Robert Crumb. If the gift is for someone who survived the 1960s and is heading toward Walmart greeter territory, look for Harvey Pekar's American Splendor books. Working with a stunning array of terrific artists, this Cleveland writer speaks to me like no other. All of his slice-of-life tales are worth reading, but my favorite is Our Cancer Year, written with wife Joyce Brabner.

I've often said we're living in the true Golden Age of Comics. There's so much cool stuff out there. Terrific new comics of all kinds from the cosmically astonishing to the intimately personal. Collections of classic comics from the dawn of the American comic book to the present day. Amazingly knowledgeable books on comics creators and the history of our art form. Imported and translated works from Japan, Korea, Great Britain, France, and other nations. Movies and live-action TV shows and cartoons based on our beloved comics characters. Given enough time and pages, I could fill this issue with my recommendations. Alas, I must leave you with but a few more suggestions before my fellow CBG writers get to offer you their picks for great holiday gifts.

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld [Pantheon; $24.95] is the powerful real-life story of the events leading up to Hurricane Katrina, continuing through the experiences of several people who lived through that natural disaster and the bureaucratic disaster that followed, and concluding with a look at the lives of those survivors today. It's human interest and journalist as only the comics art form can present it.

Written by John E. Petty and Grey Smith and featuring perhaps the most stunning array of movie posters and stills I've seen in a single book, Capes, Crooks, & Cliffhangers [Ivy Press; $39.95] is a historical and collector's guide to dozens of the greatest movie serials in Hollywood history. Superman, Batman, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, the Phantom, and many more heroes making their big screen debuts in the thrilling chapter plays that brought audiences back to their local theaters week after week. It's a gorgeous book and something I can share with older relatives who actually saw these serials in the 1940s.

A book that never got its due is Carol Lay's The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude [Villard; $18]. It's a personal story of how Law shed her own excess pounds and a common-sense approach to weight loss. When I reviewed it some months back, I gave it the full five out of five Tonys. Then I gave it to Sainted Wife Barb, who loved it as much as I did.

My last recommendation: Kim Dong Hwa's remarkable trilogy of "first love and second chances." The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven [First Second; $16.95 each) tell the story of a widowed mother and her daughter as the latter ages from questioning young girl into a beautiful woman. It's heartwarming and poignant. If I were single and wooing a lady love, these are the comics I would give her. Because, the begging her to wear the Zatanna costume aside, I'm one of the most romantic and sensitive guys on the planet.

We close with my holiday gift to you:

If you're having trouble coming up with just the right comics-related gift for the comics fan on your holiday shopping list, or for a non-comics friend or loved one, I'm here to be your personal shopping guide. E-mail me with as much info about the person for whom you're shopping as you feel comfortable sharing. How old they are, their job, their interests, their dislikes, and the kinds of movies, sports, TV shows, and books they enjoy. I'll get back to you, albeit with slightly less speed than Santa's reindeer, with a handful of suggestions. E-mail me at:

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, my friends, and, to all, a good night.

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

Tony Isabella

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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.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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