Monday, November 20, 2017

IN MEMORIAM

Three men whose work meant a lot to me when I was a kid and, later, when I was a young man in my 20s, passed in August and September. I’ve been meaning to write something about them, but one thing or another got in the way of that. Fortunately, I finally have a few minutes to express my thanks for what they did in their lives and how that enriched my life.

Haruo Nakajima (January 1, 1929 – August 7, 2017) played Godzilla in the original Gojira (1954) and went on to play him in a dozen consecutive movies, up to and including Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972). He also played other giant monsters in other kaiju films. He was a noted stunt actor who had small roles in many other movies as well.

When I first saw Godzilla on the small screen TV in my Peony Avenue home in Cleveland, I already knew the differences between the stop-motion animation of King Kong and the “man in suit” performance of Godzilla. What I didn’t grasp until I was older was how much acting was involved in portraying those giant monsters. These days, when I watch those old favorites, I am frequently impressed by how much actors like Nakajima were able to bring to their roles despite having no dialogue and with their own features completely obscured within their costumes.

Nakajima’s other monster roles included Rodan, Moguera (the robot from The Mysterians), Varan, Mothra’s larval form, Maguma (Gorath), Baragon, Gaira (in War of the Gargantuas), King Kong (in King Kong Escapes) and various monsters in various Ultraman episodes. That’s dozens upon dozens of hours of entertainment.

From the moment I saw Godzilla for the first time, I was hooked on the big guy. A good share of that is due to Nakajima. I honor his memory and thank him for the joy he brought to me.
                                                                                   

Watching TV legend Ernie Anderson hosting late-night monster movies as his character Ghoulardi lifted those monster movies to my next passion after comic books. From January 13, 1963 through December 16, 1966, Anderson’s Shock Theater was what almost every Cleveland kid would be talking about on Monday. It was not a huge step from watching Ghoulardi to buying Famous Monsters of Filmland as often as I could scrape together some extra money after buying the comic books I loved.
                                                                                 

Basil Gogos (March 12, 1929 – September 13, 2017) painted the best Famous Monsters covers in the 1960s and 1970s. His Gorgo portrait is one of my all-time favorite giant monster images, but he never painted a cover that was less than excellent. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can see those covers. If I then open my eyes at a cool enough convention, I might see big displays of prints and t-shirts with those same images. Gogos lives on through his art.

I met him once - briefly - at a Pensacon. He was a gracious man and appreciative of how much his fans loved his work. I wish I had been able to spend more time with him. He was scheduled to appear at an Akron Comicon - where I would have interviewed him for the fans - but had to cancel because his traveling companion came down sick. And then Gogos was gone. He lived a full life for sure and did so much great work, but, with a talent as amazing as his, you always want just a little more.

There are many great monster illustrators and I love their work as well. But Basil Gogos will always be special to me.

                                                                                  

Playboy publisher and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) is someone whose work became very important to me in many ways. While recognizing that some people consider him to have exploited women and profited from their sexy images, I have a more nuanced and complicated view of him.

I was not one of those horny kids who would take every opportunity, when an issue of Playboy came into their hands, to lust after the centerfolds and other models. The women were gorgeous, but I found it uncomfortable listening to the crude remarks of my classmates. They weren’t my friends, but I had to learn to survive being short and smart and a favorite of most of my teachers. I moved among them and they accepted me, especially when they desperately needed some tutoring.

The first time I ever read anything in Playboy was when I asked my father to buy me an issue that had a Jules Feiffer article about Golden Age super-heroes. Dad bought the issue, cut out the article (which was all I wanted) and that was my introduction to the fine writing that could be found in the magazine.

When I was old enough to buy Playboy myself - most stores would let me buy it at 18 - I bought it from time to time. I’m not going to claim I didn’t enjoy the photos, but I actually did buy Playboy for the articles and cartoons.

Hefner’s role as a social activist was commendable. His support of cartoonist and other worthy causes pleased me. That he was also a playboy with multiple sexual partners didn’t mean anything to me. It wasn’t the sort of lifestyle that appealed to me. Before I was married, I rarely dated more than one woman at a time. I liked the one on one relationship. However, since I may run for office before long, I’m not going to tell you how many consensual relationships I have had in my life. Vote for me.

The writing in Playboy knocked me out. At times, I aspired to write something for the magazine. I was always so busy with the writing I was already doing that I never had the time to devote to trying to sell to Playboy. I regret that.

I subscribed to Playboy for many years because the renewal fee was always incredibly cheap. But the unread issues became a pile and, with my kids and the neighborhood kids hanging around the house, I felt uncomfortable having the magazine around. Sometime long before that, the models went from being my age or older to all being much younger than me. So I stopped getting the magazine.

In his older years, Hefner creeped me out a little with his dalliances with multiple women decades younger than him. But I never lost my respect for what he had accomplished, the stands he took, the good causes he championed and the quality of the writing and the art in his magazine.

I never got to meet Hugh Hefner. I wish I had. For me, Playboy was a positive influence. The handful of Playboy models I have met over the years share that opinion. I don’t question the truth that, for some women and men, it was not a positive influence. Sometimes you just have to go with what you think.

Haruo Nakajima. Basil Gogos. Hugh Hefner. Today’s bloggy thing is dedicated to them with admiration and respect. I’m glad they were part of my life.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Thursday, November 16, 2017

ON THE ROAD AGAIN IN 2018

Black Lightning - the TV series - will make its debut on the CW on Tuesday, January 16, at 9 pm EST. I suspect I’ll be asked a whole lot of questions about it at my convention and other appearances in 2018. Before we get to that list of appearances, let’s talk a bit about what it takes me to get to a convention.

In 2018, most conventions I drive to will have to provide me with the following: travel expenses, hotel expenses, a per diem of some sort for meals and an appearance fee. If a convention is flying me in, it will have to provide airfare for me and a companion. I’m not a cheap date, but I am a fun-within-reason date.

When a convention meets my conditions for an appearance, I will not charge for either photos or signatures. Unless the convention wants to hold some sort of special event to recoup some of the expense of bringing me to its show.

I’m always happy to do panels and presentations at conventions as long as they aren’t back to back and have been cleared with me in advance. There are panels I won’t do simply because I have seen how easily they can degenerate into unpleasantness.

Obviously, there will always be conventions exempt from paying my appearance fee. You don’t know to need which ones they are. That’s between me and them.

However, I have announced that I will not charge an appearance fee for conventions in New York City proper. My goddaughter Kara lives in New York and my “other daughter” Giselle - my daughter Kelly’s best friend since kindergarten - is moving there later this year. There’s been some confusion about this and there are conventions in locations that are not exactly New York City that might get a pass because of the confusion. Still, going forward, the "no appearance fee" thing will only apply to conventions in New York City proper.

On the other hand, if your convention is in some city I really want to visit, if it’s in a warm place when my home town isn’t warm and if you’ll cover a few extra days of lodgings so I can actually have a mini-vacation, I’m open to waving my appearance fee.

There will be those who criticize me for charging this appearance fee. There will be conventions who won’t have me as a guest because of this. I’m not going to be debate this over and over again. But, just this once...

I’ll be 66 years old on December 22. I’m in relatively good health and intend to keep writing until they pull my keyboard from my cold dead hands. However, in my field, there is never a guarantee of a next job after the job you’re working on. I’m working to put money aside for my retirement or any health problems that arise. So, yes, I am charging an appearance fee. Indeed, in the unlikely event I end up at some convention that hasn’t met my conditions for my appearance, I will be charging a nominal fee for autographs.

We live in a convention world where “Zombie #3" gets paid to come to conventions. I’m not asking for the kind of money a convention will pay for a bonafide movie or TV actor. But the money they would pay “Zombie #3"? Yeah, they can pay me that, too.

If you’re a convention promoter I haven’t scared off, or somebody who would like me to speak at a library or school, you can e-mail me to start the process going. I do hope to keep my appearances to two a month, but that’s not carved in stone.

One more thing. There’s always a slim chance that I will be needed elsewhere on a weekend when I have scheduled an appearance. My first loyalties are alays going to be to Black Lightning, DC Comics/Entertainment and the CW. If I do have to cancel an appearance - something that most conventions are familiar with because they deal with actors whose schedules can change quickly - I will do my best to make it up to that convention as soon as possible.

That said, here is my still-in-progress 2018 convention schedule. I’m looking forward to all of these events:

February 18: Action Windsor

February 23-25: Pensacon

March 9-11: Cleveland ConCoction

April 27-29: announcement pending

May 5: The Toys Time Forgot (for Free Comic Book Day)

May 19: East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention

July 13-15: G-Fest

July 19-22: Comic-Con International (This one is just a maybe right now, but I’m leaving the dates open.)

August 17-18: TerrifiCon

August 19: NEO Comic Con

November 3-4: Akron Comicon

November 9-11: announcement pending

If you would like to see me at a convention or other event in your area, please have the promoter of that event contact me directly. I’ll respond as quickly as possible.

My regular bloggy things will resume on Monday.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 127

RESOLVED: The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  This is why I’ve written over a hundred columns about him. Something about his short stature, but large courage, honor and fighting skills speaks to me.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I decide to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them. We’ve reached the title’s extended twilight.  We’ve seen the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in the now-bimonthly reprint series. This is the 127th installment of my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” columns.
                                                                               

The Rawhide Kid #140 [July 1977] sports another new cover pencilled and inked by Gil Kane. It’s a cool cover, but it doesn’t illustrate a scene from either of the two Rawhide Kid stories reprinted within this issue. That becomes less surprising when, as reported by the Grand Comics Database, we learn Kane’s cover was “inspired” by the Don Spaulding painting that graced the cover of Dell’s Lone Ranger #88 [October 1955].
                                                                             

The issue reprints two Stan Lee/Jack Davis stories: “Prisoner of the Apaches” (8 pages) from Rawhide Kid #34 [June 1963] and “The Gunfighter and the Girl” (5 pages) from #33 [April 1963]. I wrote about these stories in 2012. Here are my comments on “Prisoner of the Apaches”:

“Prisoner of the Apaches” (8 pages) is what the Rawhide Kid becomes when a trigger-happy wagon master takes a shot at an Apache scout, wounding the young brave.  When the Apaches capture the Kid and the wagon master’s family, Rawhide takes the blame for the wounding of the scout who, more bad luck, is the son of the chief.

The wagon master attempts to rescue Rawhide and the two of them are soon surrounded by Apache warriors.  Their lives are spared because the scout is recovering from his wound and because Apaches respect courage.  The chief lets the Kid and the wagon master go in peace. The Kid rides off to find others who need his help.

Sad to say, this is a weak Rawhide Kid story.  It could’ve starred almost any western hero and, despite the dire circumstances the Kid finds himself in, there’s little tension to the proceedings.  Lee and Davis didn’t seem to click as a team and their collaborations would end after one more issue.

Here are my comments on “The Gunfighter and the Girl”:

“The Gunfighter and the Girl” (5 pages) is the second Rawhide Kid story in the issue.  Riding through an area where there aren’t any arrest warrants for him, the Kid stops by a ranch hoping to get a drink of water and some grub.  He meets and is quite taken by the rancher’s lovely daughter and the attraction is mutual.  The next days are described as the happiest of the Kid’s life.

The Kid figures on starting a new life with the girl and the girl’s dad is happy for them.  But a ranch hand who also loves the young lady reminds Rawhide he’s still a wanted man and that’s the life he might be visiting upon her.  So the Kid plays the bully, acts as if his main interest is in getting the ranch and deliberately loses a fight with the ranch hand.  All to make the young woman hate him. His plan works, though the girl’s father realizes what has actually happened here:

“Ride easy, son! Some day, I’ll tell Marybelle and Tom the truth about you! I’ll tell ‘em how it takes lots more courage to lose a fight than to win one!”

This is at least the third time in the title’s run that Rawhide has lost a fight to prevent someone from either following in his outlaw path or becoming romantically involved with him.  The number goes higher when you consider the times when the Kid takes blame for the crimes of another to spare that criminal’s family.  But, this time, it hurts worse than all the other times.

As was now usual for the Marvel comics of this period, they weren’t attracted higher profile advertising. This time around, the cream of the commercial crop were a half-page ad for Slim Jim smoked beef snacks and a back cover we’ll discuss later in this bloggy thing. Outside of the usual pitches for cheap novelty items, correspondent courses and body-building, we got ads from comics dealers and other comics-related vendors spread out over three pages of “classified” ads. There were 24 such ads, up two from the previous issue of The Rawhide Kid.
                                                                            
  
Superhero Merchandise of Dover, New Jersey had its usual full page of Marvel stuff. This time out, it was an assortment of “Marvel Superhero Patches.” The four-inch self-adhesive patches featured a variety of characters and logos. Choose any six for $6 (including postage and handling) or individual patches for $1.25. Also on the page, a set of four “Marvel Puzzle and Word” books for $3.79. You could order individual books for $1.25 each.
                                                                            

Next was a full-page advertisement for “Sky Heroes” from Marx Toys. These seem to be cardboard gliders with their own launchers. Four heroes were available from toy stores: Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and Captain America. No price was listed in the ad.
                                                                                   
 
There was an half page Marvel house ad for the company’s black-and-white magazines The Rampaging Hulk, The Savage Sword of Conan and Marvel Preview. Below that was a half-page ad for Crazy, the humor magazine that would outlast almost all of the other black-and-white magazines.
                                                                               

Repeated from the previous issue...The FOOM Fan Club shared a page with a Marvel subscription ad. Both were fairly generic.
                                                                               

Because the Rawhide Kid stories were only 13 pages combined, this issue also had a five-page, non-series yarn. “My Gun for Hire!” was originally published in Kid Colt Outlaw #92 [September 1960]. The tale was written (and signed) by Stan Lee with art by the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito.

Gun-for-hire Blaze Wilson rides into the town of Largo where there are two warring factions. Cory represents the law-abiding citizens of the town. Lassiter runs a gang of owlhoots who find the town to be easy pickings. A showdown between the factions is coming. Both men offer Wilson a job, but Wilson goes with the money and signs up with Lassiter.

The Lassiter gang rides up on Cory’s Spinning-C ranch, figuring to make short work of its three ranch hands. Wilson knows something is off and he’s right. As a thunderous barrage of gunfire erupts from the ranch house, he realizes it’s a trap. The Lassiter gang finds itself ringed in from all sides. Wilson tries to flee, but is hit in the shoulder and falls from his horse. When he comes to, he’s in time for the story’s three final panels:
                                                                                
                                                                                 

Gunhawks recognizing the error of their ways was a common Stan Lee theme in these non-series stories. This story has nice gritty art from Andru and Esposito, and some equally fine scripting from Lee. I liked it a lot when I first read it in its original appearance. Back in the mid-1960s, it was still possible to find these Marvel western comics for close to their original cover prices. I bought the old westerns whenever I came across them.
                                                                              

In the middle of the above story, there was a full-page ad for the Official Star Trek Poster Magazine. Each issue covered one of the U.S.S. Enterprises voyages. A 12-issue subscription would cost $10. A copy of just the “maiden voyage” was $1. For either offer, Trek fans had to pay an additional fifty cents “to cover intergalactic transporter and postage charges.”

The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page also appeared in the middle of “My Gun for Hire!” The first page of the story was followed by one of the classified ad pages and the Star Trek ad. Then we got two more story pages followed by the Bullpen Bulletins page and an ad for Hostess Twinkies. Then we got the final two pages of the story.

Back to the Bullpen Bulletins...

“Stan Lee’s Soapbox” was a less-than-spectacular installment consisting of plugs for previous Marvel triumphs leading into a plug for the new KISS magazine the company was publishing. This was followed by the usual news items.

ITEM! Star Wars, the coming science-fiction film from 20th Century Fox, would be adapted in six issues by Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha. Many have said Star Wars saved Marvel Comics at a time when the company’s sales were perilous.

ITEM! Marv Wolfman and Len Wein would be writing a Nova/Spider-Man crossover in Nova #12 and Amazing Spider-Man #171.

ITEM! Beth Bleckley was leaving editorial for the “hallowed halls of higher education.” Her replacement was Jo Duffy. Hi, Jo!

Martha Conway joined the Marvel staff as secretary to Stan Lee as John Romita came back on staff to do penciling and inking and more, including assisting John Tartaglione with art corrections.

ITEM! Captain Britain, created for a new British weekly, would make his American debut teaming up with Spider-Man in an upcoming story for Marvel Team-Up by Chris Claremont (who was writing the British series) and John Byrne.

ITEM! Summer annuals! Iron Man teaming with the Champions! Avengers in space with Warlock, Captain Marvel and Thanos! Howard the Duck teaming with Man-Thing! Plus an Invaders annual wherein Roy Thomas recruited some of the original Golden Age artists of the World War II heroes to draw those characters one more time! As I recall, it was a pretty good year for the Marvel annuals.
                                                                                  
   
The Hostess comic-book-style ad was “Spider-Man and Madam Web” with pencil art by Ross Andru. Having rejected the love of a villainous Madam Web, Spidey was framed by her. He seduces her into clearing his name with the golden, cream-filled sponge-cake goodness that is Twinkies. Alas, the cops take Madam Web into custody before she is able to consummate her new-found love for snack cakes.
                                                                             
The back cover is a Jack Davis-drawn ad for Spalding autographed basketballs that features then current stars Rick Barry and Dr. J. The balls have a rubber cover that allows players to get a really good grip on them. Other basketballs feature the signatures of Wilt Chamberlain, Pistol Pete and Ernie D.

We have eleven more issues to go before The Rawhide Kid concludes its 151-issue run. Come back next week for another installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.”

Come back on Monday for a special column honoring a trio of gentlemen whose work meant quite a lot to me as I navigated those rough waters between adolescence and adulthood. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TONY'S TIPS #233

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Thor: Ragnarok, latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; The Flintstones Volume 2 by Mark Russell with artists Steve Pugh, Rick Leonardi and Scott Hanna; and The Usagi Yojimbo Saga: Legends by Stan Sakai!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

AKRON COMICON 2017 (Part Two of Two)

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing...

The Akron Comicon 2017 which, among other things, celebrated Black Lightning on the super-hero’s 40th anniversary, was held November 4 and 5, at the John S. Knight Convention Center. Guests included original Black Lightning artist Trevor von Eeden, original Black Lightning editor Jack C. Harris, Mike W. Barr, P. Craig Russell, Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and many others. This is the conclusion of my report on that event.

On Sunday morning, Sainted Wife Barb had to leave early to go to work. I had a fun breakfast with Jack, Tom and Ron, talking about all kinds of stuff. Before long, it was time to board the hotel shuttle and head to the convention.

Though the costume contest was held on Saturday, there were still many cosplayers walking around the convention. My favorite group of cosplayers were three fans dressed as Hela, Loki and Thor from the new movie Thor: Ragnarok. If I could even remotely carry a tune, I would have serenaded the fetching Hela with a rendition of “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight.”
                                                                         
                                                                                 

I also enjoyed seeing Spider-Ham and younger cosplayers such as Kid Punisher. The latter seemed to have had a rough convention, but was no worse for the wear and smiling.
                                                                               

On both days, I signed a lot of comic books and sold a lot of comic books and other items. But, on Sunday, I was able to get away from my table to wander the convention floor a bit. I visited the good folks at WBNX-TV (The CW in Cleveland), comics artist Darryl Banks, my friend, neighbor and occasional employer Tom Batiuk (whose tour promoting his boxed Lisa’s Legacy Trilogy set has been keeping him on the road), Craig Boldman, George Broderick and Chris Yambar (who gave me copies of some of their latest comics), Matt Horak (Akron area artist currently drawing the Punisher), Bob Ingersoll (who is in the background of most con photos of Jack, Trevor and myself), the formidable Dirk Manning, Matthew Manning (who gave me a copy of his Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover), Mike and Janice Olszewski (who gave me a copy of their wonderful Cleveland Radio Tales), old friend and comics genius P. Craig Russell, Ted Sikora and Milo Manara (filmmakers and the creators of Apama and the Tap Dance Killer), Mark Sumerak, Sean & Stephanie Forney, Jay E. Fife, Rick Lozano, Dan Gorman, Lee Smith and many others.

After reuniting with Jack and Trevor, there were many other special moments for me during the convention. I had a chance to talk with Youngstown comics dealer Pat Dulay, who I have known for decades. I spent some time with old friends from the U.S.S LaGrange Star Trek Club; I was and maybe still am an honorary member of the best starship in Northeastern Ohio.

I also visited The Toys Time Forgot booth. I’ll be returning to the store for Free Comic Book Day 2018. Located in the very cool Canal Fulton, the establishment is a treasure trove of amazing toys and collectibles. They even helped me load up my table and take it to my van when the show ended.

Sidebar. Let us take a moment to honor my soon-to-be-retired van. “Monty” has taken me to countless conventions over the past decade or so. But, alas, it needs more costly repairs than its blue book value. I’m truly saddened by the end of my adventures with Monty, but Sainted Barb assures me my beloved van will have a good life at a farm elsewhere in Ohio, a place where it can relax and play with the rabbits and deer. I’ll miss you, Monty.

The Akron Comicon had a fun slate of panels on Sunday, though I was unable to attending any of them. Veteran voice actor Frank James Bailey presented an introduction to basic voice acting. P. Craig Russell gave a live talk on the art of graphic story telling. Ed Gosney II spoke on Comic Book Nostalgia, reflecting on our comics collections. Finally, Trevor von Eeden and Mike W. Barr teamed for a panel on The Brave and the Bold and other favorites of the Bronze Age of Comics.

Two more special moments need to be mentioned. One was a moment I take more delight in than I should, the other was the perfect cap  to a glorious convention. I’m sure you’ll be able to determine which is which.

There was a lout at the convention, an unpleasant fellow who had, in the past, caused some unpleasantness for some of the convention fans and volunteers. He was a scowling jerk who lumbered about the con wearing his made-in-China “Make America Great Again” hat. He’d gotten Bob Ingersoll’s signature on a Star Trek comic book the two of us had written many years ago and wanted my autograph on it as well.

I told him I’d be happy to sign his comic book as soon as he took  off “that fucking stupid hat.” The expression on the poor sensitive creature’s face when I told him that made my soul sing. Mind you, I didn’t say I wouldn’t sign his comic book. Just that I wouldn’t sign it while he was standing before me wearing that representation of the worst president in our nation’s history. He stormed off and I chuckled. I would say I was ashamed of chuckling out loud at his plight, but that would be a lie. I relished the moment.

However, the cherry on the delicious sundae of the convention was when my friend Dennis Knowles came to the convention with another old friend. Dennis, who is a television producer who works with the local PBS station and does their weekly arts-and-culture program, has been working on a piece about me. More importantly, Dennis is a key player in my comics career.

I grew up in Cleveland, a heavily segregated city. My first black friends were comic-book fans - Dennis, Bruce Burke, Leroy Crayton - who I met at a comic-book club I founded and which held meetings at the now-infamous Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s west side. That center is where young Tamar Rice was murdered by policemen who escaped justice for their crime. But, back in the early 1970s, the center was a place of fond memories.

Becoming friends with Dennis, Bruce and Leroy made me consider how unfair it was that there weren’t more black characters in comics. “Diversity” was not really part of my everyday vocabulary back then. I just thought it wasn’t fair that my friends couldn’t see themselves in the comic books we all loved.

Dennis came to Akron Comicon on Sunday to shoot additional footage for his piece on me. He brought Leroy with him and filmed the very moment of my reunion with a dear friend I hadn’t see in possibly 20 years or more. Leroy and I were both a little worse for the years, but it was so good seeing and talking with him. I hope some of that footage makes it into the show. Leroy sometimes sings at a church in my home town of Medina, so we hope to get together for lunch in the near future.

The Akron Comicon appears to be my last appearance of the year and it was a great conclusion to my convention year. It’s a convention built around the fans, of which I have been one my entire life. It honored Black Lightning, my proudest creation and the character who is still changing my life for the better. It was a convention I’ll never forget.

In 2018, the Akron Comicon will move to the historic Goodyear Hall. The dates are Saturday and Sunday, November 3 and 4. I’ll be there and I hope to see you there as well.

I’ll be back soon more stuff. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Saturday, November 11, 2017

AKRON COMICON 2017 (Part One of Two)

Bloggy Tony is way behind on writing about the comics conventions and other events he attended this year. There are seven all told, though he’s not allowed to blog about the most recent event until sometime next month. He’s going to try to write about all of them before the end of the year, starting, inexplicably, with the second most recent event. Go figure.

The Akron Comicon was held Saturday/Sunday, November 4 & 5 at the John S. Knight Convention Center. The center is a decent facility with an extremely helpful loading dock staff and an above-average concessions operation. It could use another rest room or two, but that’s a minor complaint. It’s a mid-size center with a large area for guests and retailers and a large auditorium for panels and the always popular cosplay competition.

Inspired by Roger Price’s classic Mid-Ohio-Con conventions, Akron Comicon promoters Robert Jenkins, Michael Savene and Jesse Vance always put on an event that is comics-driven and fan-friendly. It is a show about comics past, present and future that serves comics fans first and foremost.

This year, the convention was celebrating Black Lightning’s forty years in comics. The headline guests were yours truly, Trevor von Eeden (the original series artist), Jack C. Harris (original series editor) and Eddy Newell, who draw my second Black Lightning run in the 1990s. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, Eddy wasn’t able to attend the convention. He was missed.
                                                                               

This was the first convention Trevor, Jack and I had ever been at a convention together. Trevor and I were next to each other in the guests/vendors room with Jack sitting directly behind me. Leave it to an editor to be on my back constantly.

This reunion was everything I had hoped for. I love those guys and we got to spend a lot of time together. The three of us did a Black Lightning panel on Saturday afternoon and, though we didn’t fill the large auditorium, we had a pretty good crowd who learned a lot about Black Lightning and the three of us.
                                                                           

WBNX-TV, the area CW affiliate, was also on hand with their prize and swag booth. The WBNX crew are some of the best people I know. They love the shows they are airing, especially those featuring the DC Comics heroes. They are almost as excited as I am when it comes to the Black Lightning series debuting in the mid-season. They had free Black Lightning posters for the convention fans. If you spun their prize wheel and landed on Black Lightning, you could also get a Black Lightning umbrella. Pretty cool, huh?
                                                                                

Throughout Akron Comicon, I was selling and signing Black Lightning Volume One (reprinting the original run of the character), Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 (both the main cover and the variant cover) and back issues of Black Lightning and my other writings. I signed hundreds of the above and almost as many of the posters from WBNX-TV. I answered questions and posed for photographs with Jack, Trevor and the fans.

Trevor was kept busy doing all of the above and drawing commissions for the art collectors in the audience. He’s a fascinating speaker with an amazing personal story and insights on a range of subjects. We hope to work together again in the near future.

Jack was also doing the signing thing while answering questions on his long and varied career. He worked closely with legends such as Steve Ditko, Kurt Schaffenberger, Murray Boltinoff, Dick Ayers and many others. When Trevor and I find that project we want to do, we intend to bring the entire band back together by asking Jack to be our editor.

It was breathtakingly cool to be reunited with Jack and Trevor, and to introduce them to my Sainted Wife Barb. She liked them both and there’s no better judge of character.

Don’t think Akron Comicon was entirely about Black Lightning. We shared the event with almost three dozen featured guests and just as many great retailers, artist alley creators and some very fine cosplayers. I hope to have photos of the cosplayers for you in the second part of this report.

On the reverse side of the convention program book was Adventures in Comics #0 featuring a trio of previews from convention guests. For the first time in color, Robert A. Kraus presented his first Chakan story, “Chakan Vs. Dracula.” The second preview was The Tap Dance Killer by writers Ted Sikora and Milo Miller. Finally, there was a one-page introduction of Sean and Stephanie Forney’s Scarlet Huntress. All three previews were fun.

Sidebar. A special bloggy thank you to Sean and Stephanie Forney. They brought me one of the ginormous Black Lightning bags from the San Diego Comic-Con International. I almost have enough of them for my entire family.

On Saturday, the convention presented six special events. Benjamin Hammer hosted an open panel on cosplay. Jack, Trevor and I did out Black Lightning panel. Dirk Manning, who has raised over $102,000 on a number of Kickstarter graphic novel campaigns, was happy to share his hard-earned experience. Mike Sangiacomo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer interviewed Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, Mike Gustovich and others. Vernon McWain-Moore and Ken Rose presented a live edition of their DC Superpowers Podcast. The Saturday events schedule ended with the Rubber City Cosplayers hosting the Akron Comicon costume contest.

After the convention closed on Saturday, the show promoters had a shuttle waiting for the guests. We were driven to Belgrade Gardens in nearby Barberton for a scrumptious dinner. The speciality of the house is chicken in myriad varieties, lots of side dishes, great bread and delicious deserts. What a meal!

Barb and I sat at a long table with Jack C. Harris, Mike W. Barr, Ron Frenz, Tom DeFalco and others. Trevor von Eeden, as incredibly industrious as he always is, had opted to go straight to our hotel so that we could finish a batch of commissions he had accepted at the convention. I don’t know if Trevor works with an agent or not, but I do know you art collectors can count on him to deliver great pieces in a timely fashion. I’m hoping to get a couple of special pieces from him before the end of the year.

This was more than a dinner. It was an awards dinner. To celebrate Black Lightning’s 40-year career, the Akron Comicon presented Jack, myself, the absent Eddy Newell and Trevor with lifetime achievement awards for our work on the character.
                                                                               
       
Black Lightning. 1977-2017. Helping to save the world for 40 years. And, it is certainly hoped, many more years to come.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the second and final part of this year’s Akron Comicon report. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella

Friday, November 10, 2017

BLACK LIGHTNING BEAT (11/10/17)

The biggest Black Lightning news for me is the publication of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 to mostly rave reviews. Working with artist Clayton Henry, editors Jim Chadwick, Rob Levin and Harvey Richards, colorist Pete Pantazis and the entire Black Lightning and DC Comics team has been a wondrous experience for me. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the near-future, including starting a series of Black Lightning Beats giving annotations for darn near everything in the six issues of this new series, but, today, I want to try to discuss (and sometimes link to) as many Black Lightning interviews, news items and reviews as possible.

I have been so busy with Black Lightning stuff that I don’t always read the news items and such in a timely fashion. Which means what I present today won’t be in chronological order. With that caveat, let’s get started...
                                                                           

Grammy Award-winner Jill Scott has been cast as Lady Eve on the CW Black Lightning series coming in the mid-season. From the Express Newsline:

EW reports that Scott will be playing Lady Eve, a DC Comics villain who will be adapted for the TV series as funeral parlor owner who is secretly "the bridge between Tobias Whale (played by L.A. rapper Marvin "Krondon" Jones III) and a secret group of corrupt leaders".

Scott, a four-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, has performed on Broadway and starred in films such as Why Did I Get Married?, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Steel Magnolias.


I’m not familiar with Lady Eve - there was a long period when I was not following DC comic books closely -but the Comics Vine website described her as:

The paramour and willing servant to the terrorist Kobra and his right hand in his organization K.O.B.R.A. Eve fought with Halo and the rest of the Outsiders even outfitting the new Strike Force Kobra. She may also go by Lady Naja.                  

Welcome to the Black Lightning family, Miss Scott.

Earlier this year, at the Great Lakes Comic-Con, I was interviewed by Mike-El of the Comic Book Syndicate. The interview runs a little under five minutes and you can watch it here.
                                                                              

Edwina Finley, who starred in Fear the Walking Dead, has joined the Black Lightning series in the recurring role of Tori, beautiful and cunning younger sister of Tobias Whale. According to the Deadline website: Tori’s charming nature is just a facade as she can be just as deadly as Tobias, an exciting threat to the people of Freeland.

Amusingly, independent of each other, the Black Lightning TV show and myself (in Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1) created sisters for Tobias Whale. If you’ve seen the comic book, you know there is no connection between my version and that of the series.

Also, unless things have changed since I was in the Black Lightning writers room, Freeland is not the name of a city. It’s the name of a neighborhood in Atlanta.

Andy Behbakht, one of my favorite entertainment writers, reported that Chantal Thuy (Madam Secretary, Pretty Little Liars) is joining the TV series as Grace Choi, a character created by Judd Winick and Tom Raney for the DC Comics title Outsiders. According to Behbakht, The CW described the show’s take on Grace this way:

Grace Choi, a bartender who becomes the love interest of Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams). Grace is a comic book fan who befriends Anissa while she is coming to terms with her abilities and becomes Anissa’s first confidant about the struggles and challenges of having abilities.

In the comics, which came out during that time when I wasn’t reading many DC Comics titles, Choi was herself a metahuman. I don’t know if that’s going to be the case on the TV series.

Thuy’s casting leads me to an ongoing problem I have with Scoop, the free email newsletter produced by Gemstone Publishing, a part of Diamond Distribution that splits a mighty fine hair by calling itself the smaller sister company of that large corporation. I e-mailed this to Scoop in early October:

Gee...

Being that the Scoop is brought to us by the only major distributor of *comic books* in the country, it would be swell if, when writing about movies or TV shows based on actual comic books, you'd mention the creators of the comic books. For the record...and this is the official credit line as written by me and agreed to by DC...Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor von Eeden.

Giving credit where it's due shouldn't be a problem for Scoop or any other media outlet.


The Scoop response:

While our "Did You Know" and "Superstars" entries (as well as in other sections in Scoop) will indeed feature creator-centric news, our news stories of TV shows generally only mention the creators of the source material periodically, most often on the original announcements of the shows.

Sometimes, when the creator is particularly involved in the show or film (most recent example being Beau Smith with Wynonna Earp), that will be a prominent feature in our coverage; normally it is not. Again, to be clear, this is in reference to the show, not the comics themselves.


My response to that baloney:

Then I suggest you consider changing your style book. These shows would not exist without the creators who initiated the characters. The shows don't exist without the comic books. When the creator credits are clear, as they are with Black Lightning, they should be included in your coverage. We're talking about one more sentence in most cases.

Anything less is disrespectful to the creators. Which is something I've been trying to hammer home online and in my blogs and which I'll continue speaking out for.
 
Imagine my “amusement” when Scoop ran an item about the casting of of Thuy as Choi...and did credit Winick and Raney. No mention of me or Trevor, but a line crediting Winick and Raney. Make of that what you will.

But, if you believe as I do that comics newsletters and news sites should credit the known creators of comics characters, please drop Scoop/Gemstone/Diamond a note to that effect. Scoop’s style book is archaic and disrespectful.
                                                                                

Over the past weekend, the Akron Comicon celebrated forty years of Black Lightning with me, original series artist Trevor von Eeden and original series editor Jack C. Harris. It was an amazing event. Tomorrow’s bloggy thing will present the first part of my two-day convention report. See you then.

© 2017 Tony Isabella