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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Debbus the Menace

My immediate reaction to this "Dennis the Menace" cartoon from March 3 was to wonder if today's newspaper readers even know what a "come-as-you-are party" is, followed quickly by my wondering if anyone on the planet has actually thrown a "come-as-you-are party" within the past couple of decades.

The "come-as-you-are party" gag was a staple of comic strips and books for ages. The earliest example that I recall is a Milton Caniff "Miss Lace" strip from 1940s. The Angel of the Armed Forces is invited to a party by horny soldiers who imagine her attending in various states of undress. The gag is that she was doing house cleaning when they phoned; she shows up at their barracks wearing a babushka, coveralls, a long-sleeves shirt, etc.

I've never been invited to a "come-as-your-are party" and I'd certainly disappoint anyone who did invite me. I don't answer the phone in the shower and, most of the rest of the time, I'm wearing t-shirts and pajamas. If the host was lucky, I might be wearing a funny shirt, but that would be the extent of the excitement. I am to parties what kryptonite is to Superman.

However, I do consider this online column to be a kind of sort of "come-as-I-am party" that I invite you to as often as I am able to write it. I write it like I think it is, which is not terribly diplomatic of me and which, on rare occasion, results in a reader getting absolutely livid with me. It's one of the risks that goes with having opinions and presenting them to an audience. I suspect this column might be one of those rare occasions, though I'm hoping the brevity of my comments will limit the degree of invective and ire hurled at me. I'm such a dreamer.

There are a trio of unpleasant comicdom-related situations on my radar at the moment. I've involved myself in one of them while a friend is involved in one of the others. I'll make with the full disclosures where appropriate.

Unscrewed Symbol

Rick Olney

Everything you need to know about Rick Olney, his Mighty Mini-Con, and TightLip Entertainment can be found here:

If you still choose to do business with Olney after visiting this website, well, you're several issues short of a complete run. In my 35 years in the comics industry, I've only rarely come across anyone as vile as Olney. That's why, though he has only minimally annoyed me personally, I have happily and proudly joined with the folks who run the Unscrewed website.

Unscrewed! is a group of creators brought together in response to the reprehensible actions of some industry individuals. You are not required to have been "screwed" by any unscrupulous publisher to participate in the project. You are required to feel compassion for those who have been and stand against this kind of behavior in the comics industry.

The website is currently running auctions to benefit creators and other comics folks who are owed money by Olney and who, in some cases, are suing and have sued him for what they are owed by him. There have already been a number of judgments against Olney and I'm sure there will be more. I have contributed four pages of original art from some of my Black Lightning, Hawkman, and Tigra stories to the latest auction...

...and I hope my readers will consider bidding on them and the other items being offered. Past auctions have raised a little over $3,000 for "Olney's Orphans."

In my estimation, Olney fully deserves the legal losses he is suffering and to be driven from comicdom. That said, I also think some have gone too far in their negative comments about him. His weight, his body odor, and his daughter aren't proper matters for discussion, even though those comments pale besides the incredibly vile insults and threats that Olney himself has made. As my lawyer friends tell me, when the facts are on your side, hammer the facts. The facts are absolutely on the side of Unscrewed and its allies...and those will prove sufficient to bring Olney to justice and some measure of relief to his victims.

Guess I threw brevity out the window with that one.

Let's see if I can do better with the other two.


Harlan Ellison Vs. Gary Groth

If you don't know about Harlan Ellison's lawsuit against Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, and Fantagraphics Books, you can look it up on the "internets" and save me writing a couple thousand words on the suit and the decades-old animosity that preceded it. Here's where I stand on it:

This is not a First Amendment issue, no matter how hard Groth and company try to dress it up as such. What it the sad-but-inevitable consequence of Groth having poked the usually cuddly bear that is my friend Harlan for so many decades that it borders on obsession.

Harlan, as noted, is a friend of mine, a dear friend. He and I have done all manner of good turns for one another. I can think of few I'd rather have at my side in a tough situation. I admire him and his works, literary and social. He has been and remains an inspiration. I know a little more about the Ellison-Groth history than some, but it's not something I have asked or would ask Harlan about. We've always had better things to talk about.

Gary was and maybe still is a friend of mine. I've known him since he was a teenager. I respect what he and Thompson have done with Fantagraphics, unquestionably one of the finest publishers in the comics industry. But, too often, in reading this or that piece by Groth, I am saddened by his arrogance and eternal adolescence. He's that incredibly bright kid who never quite grew up and, when he goes after Ellison, his acting out is painful to watch.

Clearly, I won't be donating to any Fantagraphics Defense Fund in this matter. If I had my druthers, Groth and Thompson would do what it takes to make peace with Harlan and then continue bringing their wonderful Fantagraphics efforts to the bookstores and comics shops. I do believe they are in the wrong here.

I haven't and won't talk to Harlan about this matter. I don't know if, this time, he's been pushed too far. But I do know him as a man who is uncommonly generous when he's given any opportunity to be generous. It would be in Groth's and Thompson's best interests to give him that opportunity.

Brevity? Who did I think I was kidding?

Friends of Lulu

Friends of Lulu Empowerment Fund

This is a confusing matter for me. I'll start by sending you to Jennifer Contino's excellent summation at's The Pulse:;f=36;t=006067

When I learned of what I prefer to call "The Taki Soma/Charles Brownstein Incident," I was horrified. But it wasn't long before I started having serious doubts about any number of elements of the situation. I'll run those doubts by you.

It pained me, on a personal level, to see Mid-Ohio-Con linked to the incident by an accident of geography. I saw red every time someone called it "The Mid-Ohio-Con Incident" and redder yet when a few commentators went all tabloid sleazy on it. As TOT readers know, MOC is my favorite convention. That the alleged assault took place before the start of the show, that it took place the length of the hotel away from the show, that the show had no role in this incident and didn't even know anything had occurred until several weeks after the show...these were lost on those looking for a short cut description of the matter.

My doubts did nothing but increase as time passed.

The initial reporting on the alleged assault was pure gossip column. The descriptions were so vague that speculation as to the identity of the perpetrator included several innocent men. It was incompetent journalism, driven by passion and rage more than by the cloudy facts of the matter.

What happened that unhappy evening? I confess I don't really believe any of the participants or witnesses. Brownstein admitted to a degree of inappropriate conduct. Soma claims his conduct was far more egregious. Her witness, from the accounts I've seen, did not come forward until well after the convention. I don't think we got the whole truth from any of them.

I don't excuse Brownstein even if his inappropriate conduct was as slight as he claimed. That conduct alone is sufficient that he should have resigned from his position as Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. That he didn't resign, that the CBLDF directors didn't insist on his resignation or, failing to get it, remove him themselves, is astonishing to me.

Despite my concerns over the Soma/Brownstein Incident, despite that the Friends of Lulu Empowerment Fund was clearly misconceived and mismanaged from the get-go, I do believe it's a fitting project for the organization. Its purpose - to aid women in the comics industry who are sexually assaulted or harassed by someone else within the same industry, and who want to press charges or pursue a civil suit - makes sense to me. However...

...those administrating the Empowerment Fund must adhere to a very high standard in doing so. Much as the current administration wishes otherwise, the presumption of innocence remains vital to our system of justice. Those seeking assistance from the Empowerment Fund must be creditable applicants able to deliver the heavy burden of proof the law requires.

When and if Friends of Lulu relaunches the Empowerment Fund, I don't envy its administrators. They will be called upon to make tough decisions. They won't be able to approve every application for funds, but they must always be respectful of those who apply. In every case, creditable evidence and testimony must be sufficient to overcome the presumption of innocence. If it's not, FOL should not involve itself in the case.

Two questions on this matter.

Should the Empowerment Fund provide counseling for victims of sexual harassment or assault when the applicant lacks access to or financial resources to pay for such counseling?

Should the Empowerment Fund accept and consider applications from men in the industry who are sexually assaulted or harassed by someone else within the industry, and who want to press charges or pursue a civil suit?

That's all for now. If anyone is still speaking to me after today's column, I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/02/2007 | 04/03/2007 | 04/04/2007 >>

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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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