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for Thursday, January 14, 2010

Giant Size Invaders 1

My favorite mailing list is the Timely-Atlas-Comics list run by noted comics historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo. I have learned much from the group's members and, on rare occasion, have been able to contribute to the exchange of information. In this instance, it was the mention of a favorite artist/collaborator that triggered my memories.

"Speaking of Frank Robbins, which someone was...."

I was partly responsible for Robbins coming to Marvel. At the time, I was the editor of about half of the companies' black-and-white magazines. I got a phone call from a friend who was on staff at DC Comics. No, I won't tell you who. But, yes, you would most certainly recognize his name if I did tell you.

I was told Frank was having trouble with some bigwigs at DC. As best as I can recollect, it was someone wanting Frank to take a page rate cut and trying to force his acquiescence by cutting back on Frank's DC work. My friend knew I was a huge Robbins fan and so called me on Frank's behalf. Going way over my pay grade, I told my friend that Marvel would have plenty of work for Frank. Then I sheepishly walked into editor-in-chief Roy Thomas' office to tell him what I had just done.

Luckily, I was far from the only huge Robbins fan at Marvel. Roy loved his work. John Romita loved his work. Heck, everybody loved his work.

When I first spoke to Frank, I wanted him to both write and draw for my black-and-white magazines. But he didn't want to write, just pencil. We did discuss a series he'd created about (I think) intelligent dinosaurs. I wanted it for Monsters Unleashed, but he was immediately given so much work on the color comics that I never got to use him on any of my black-and-whites. I did get to work with him on Ghost Rider and Captain America, thoroughly enjoying our collaboration and friendship.

Frank and I spoke often while we were both living in New York, but we almost never talked about comics. One of my regrets about my time there is that I didn't spend more time asking questions about the careers of the people I worked with. I always felt that would be unprofessional. I was overly conscious of how young I was. So I mostly talked with them about the work at hand and things going on in the world outside comics.

That was the case even before I worked for Marvel. The one I kick myself over is Ray Osrin. He was the editorial cartoonist at Cleveland's The Plain Dealer when I was a copy assistant at the paper. He was one of the last people to work with Joe Shuster, collaborating with him on a number of stories for Charlton. He knew of my interest in comics and asked about them occasionally, but since he always clammed up quickly when I asked about his own comics career, I never pushed it. I think the only comic of his he ever mentioned by name was Gold Key's Supercar, based on the Gerry Anderson TV series. But I digress.

The first time I brought Frank Robbins a plot - he liked to sit down and go over them with me - he was still living in some real expensive Manhattan apartment. I kind of sort of recall that it was the same place where John Lennon lived, but my memory fails me there.

My first impression was that Frank was Hawkman. He had ancient weapons and a suit of armor there. Great looking stuff.

He was going through a nasty divorce, so our future meetings were at a much smaller apartment in the city. Not a lot of bling there, but on the walls were wonderful multiple image paintings that he had created.

I wrote pretty much panel-by-panel plots. Frank would find ways to add more stuff to them without losing anything I did. We worked so well together that he would sometimes lay in balloons and captions for me before I scripted the pages. Sometimes he'd write ribald little comments in them. A few times, I cleaned the comments up and used them.

In terms of working with artists who got me, who understood how I worked, Frank was definitely one of the top three. The others were Richard Howell and Eddy Newell on Hawkman and Black Lightning.

Frank and I fell out of touch after I left Marvel and he moved to Mexico, safe from his ex-wife's attempts to bleed every last dime out of him. That falling out of touch is another regret for me.

Though I certainly torpedoed my comics career by leaving New York, I wouldn't trade any comics job for my life in Ohio with my wife and kids. Fame and fortune pale besides the satisfaction of raising a couple of fine youngsters.

But never doubt that I cherish the great comics people I was privileged to work with over the years. Frank Robbins definitely ranks high among them.

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.

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