Friday, September 30, 2011


My next-to-last convention appearance of this year will be New York
Comic Con
, October 13-16, at the Javits Center.  I’m not a featured
guest and I won’t have an Artist Alley table, but, at various times
during the show, I will be signing The Grim Ghost and other things
I’ve written at the Atlas/Ardeen booth.  Beyond catching me while
I’m signing, your best chance of having a conversation or meeting
with me is to contact me before the show. 

I’m attending this convention to support Atlas Comics and my work
there.  The rest of my “agenda” for the show, some of which I may
actually accomplish, is to see old friends and new...and to talk to
artists, editors, or publishers who want to work with me. 

When I look at the list of spotlight and featured comics guests and
the over 300 Artist Alley participants who will be at this event,
I know I probably won’t get to chat with more than a fraction of my
old friends and new.  I hope it’s easier for me to spend time with
 my fandom friends and readers who come to the convention,
but, as those who should know keep telling me, this is a BIG show.
I expect to have a “deer in the headlights” expression on my face
from start to finish.

I suck at networking, so I’m not really expecting to make any deals
for new projects at the con.  On the plus side, it’s not a pressing
concern for me.  On the other hand side, I’m always interested in
talking with people who want to work with me.  My limited time and
my picky nature mean I can’t accept every opportunity that comes my
way, but I won’t dismiss anything cavalierly.  Don’t be shy about
approaching me.

Let’s see what else I feel like writing about today.


A few of the readers who have asked me when I’m writing a sequel to
my 1000 Comic Books You Must Read want to know what I think about
a book coming out later this year.  Edited by comics historian Paul
Gravett, 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die: The Ultimate
Guide to Comic Books, Graphic Novels and Manga
[Universe; $36.95]
is a 960-page “critical history of comic books, manga and graphic
novels.”  What I think about it is that, within minutes of learning
about it, I ordered it and am looking forward to reading it.

I never thought my book, which concentrated on the American comic
book industry, was the be all and end all of this kind of history.
I hoped part of the fun of reading my book would be the inevitable
second-guessing of my choices.  I’m sure Gravett’s readers will be
just as eager to second-guess his choices and those of his team of
critics and writers.  As for me, given the more international range
and greater length of this new book, I expect to learn a whole lot
of stuff I didn’t know and discover new comics material that
I will, indeed, want to read before I die.

I’m not merely okay with 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.
I am positively enthusiastic.


Courtesy of a friend who purchased them all and loaned them to me,
I now have the new Justice League #1 and the first three full weeks
of “The New 52!” Seeing the stack of first issues, I understand the
addictive urge to review them all that gripped so many bloggers and
reviewers.  While I’m going to continue to try to resist that path,
I do plan to read them all and comment whenever I have something I
think is worth adding to the conversation.

My enmity towards the Time Warner corporate hive of villainy aside,
I’m delighted for the writers and artists who will benefit from the
amazing sales of these first issues.  I’m less thrilled that these
books are making it tough for smaller publishers in a tough comics
marketplace, but that’s how it often goes in an industry dominated
by the Big Two. 

On a more speculative note, because all I’ve heard are rumors with
the facts obscured by non-disclosure agreements, I’m pained those
writers and artists are apparently being micro-managed by the same
untalented editors and executives who have been the bane of actual
creativity for the past decade.  But I digress.

I plan to read four of “The New 52" every day until I leave for the
New York Comic Con...and the remaining week’s worth on my return.
Whether I see any/many of the second issues depends on whether or
not my friend enjoyed the first issues.

On a related note...

I have read Flashpoint #1-5 and most of the crossover mini-series
and one-shots.  I came away from them thinking that their writers
were filled with loathing for these characters and themselves.  The
“event” was filled with brutality for brutality’s sake and absurd
reinterpretations of well-established characters.  These issues may
be the most unpleasant DC comics I’ve ever read.  Perhaps the plan
was to get readers to stop caring about the old DC Universe before
launching the new one.  I don’t know and, as I’ve said many times
before, trying to figure out why DC does anything always makes my
head hurt. 


One bit of blog housekeeping before we adjourn for today.  The “Ten
Years Later” piece I posted on September 11 continues to generate
comments and e-mails, the latter from folks whose comments didn’t
get published because my settings require approval of comments made
14 days after a blog is posted.  I’ve changed the setting so that
anyone can comment on any blog in the archives.  Just keep in mind
you’re a guest in my “house” and behave accordingly.

All comments will require approval whenever I’m on a trip and away
from my computer.  Eventually, I’ll get a travel computer of some
sort so that I can stay online when I’m not home, but that’s still
a few successful eBay and garage sales away.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Thursday, September 29, 2011


One of the great things about Detroit FanFare - and this was also
true of last year’s event - was that I got to reconnect with people
I hadn’t seen in decades.  Right across the aisle from my table,
I had Alex Saviuk, Al Milgrom, and Larry Hama.  Great talents
that I had an opportunity to work with back when I was editing and
writing for Marvel Comics.

Tom Orzechowski was on the other side of the convention.  We knew
each other before either of us became comics professionals.  Heck,
I was the smart cookie who hired Tom to do lettering corrections on
the Marvel weeklies we produced for Great Britain.  Considering how
he quickly became one of the most respected letterers in comics, I
think I made a good call there.

Billy Tucci was there to give convention attendees an advance look
at A Child Is Born, his forthcoming graphic novel retelling of the
Christmas story.  I’ve known Billy for longer than I can remember
and always love spending a few moments with him.  He’s always been
one of the friendliest and most sincere creators in comics and he
is always stretching himself.  From Shi to Sgt. Rock and now this
new gorgeous project.  For previews of A Child Is Born, head over
to this Facebook page.

Amusing Cobo Hall sight: the convention staffer who got around the
show via skateboard.  I smiled every time he whizzed by my table.
Little things like that add to an event.

Cosplayers are another entertaining element of FanFare.  Among my
favorites were the Star Wars storm trooper in a wheelchair with the
head of Jar Jar Binks on a pike, storm troopers Kermit the Frog and
Gonzo, and a young lady in a Raven costume.  Bob Ingersoll took a
photo of the last to send to our friend Marv Wolfman, who loves getting
pictures of cosplayers dressed as his creations.

I was filmed and interviewed for The Comic Book Syndicate on Black
Lightning and other Isabella works.  It’s a Canadian TV show that,
while facetiously balking at my saying a former editor of mine was
“lying out of his ass,” was okay with my saying he was “fabricating
untruths out of his ass.”  Those Canadians are so darn nice.  I’m
not sure I have the courage to watch myself on the show, but the rest
of you can watch it here.

John Ostrander and Mary Mitchell were at FanFare.  It was great to
see John again and to meet Mary.  John has ben writing various Star
Wars comics for over a decade now.  I plan on catching up on those
comics in the near future.  Even though part of me thinks ten years
is long enough and we should be bringing those storm troopers home.
What else could you expect from a liberal like me?

Here’s a public service announcement.

Someone left their newly-purchased copy of Metamorpho #8 [DC; 1966]
at my table.  Since they never came back to get it, I took it home
with me.  But if that luckless fan will e-mail me with his or her
name and address...and tell me the price that was on the sticker of
this old comic...I’ll be happy to send it to them.

Saturday afternoon at FanFare saw me participating in the “Playing
With Icons” panel with Ron Marz, Al Milgrom, JT Krul, Dan Mishkin,
about a dozen folks who came to hear us talk on that subject, and
someone whose name I’m forgetting because I’m old and increasingly
feeble-minded.  We got off the subject several times, but it never
slowed down the conversation.

My position on the main topic shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Playing
with icons?  Don’t break them.  You didn’t create them.  You don’t
own them.  And while the PR department might call you an architect,
you’re not.  You might be an incredibly brilliant home renovator,
but you didn’t design or build the house.  Don’t break it.

There are good people I haven’t mentioned in this convention blog
because I don’t want it to turn into a roll call of the wonderful.
I hope none of them feel slighted.  I love you all madly.

There were many bargains to be found at FanFare, not that I had the
time to grab any of them for myself.  However, I did acquire a nice
stack of comics and other spiffy things.  I hope to read and write
about those in the near future.

The bottom line: for the second year in a row, I had a great time
at the Detroit FanFare.  I hope to return to the show just as long
as they’ll have me.  My sincere thanks to Gary Reed, Dennis Barger
and the rest of the FanFare crew for inviting me back and showing
me such a good time.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Detroit FanFare moved to Cobo Hall for its second year.  Cobo is a
huge facility.  The drive from my Medina Ohio home to the downtown
Detroit venue took less than four hours and I think the last half-
hour of that was spent getting from the entrance to the show floor
to my Artists Alley table.  Thank God I had my GPS unit or I might
never have found my table.  I jest.

That the actual convention space was truly large is true.  That it
was maybe too large for this year’s event is an arguable position.
However, FanFare made it easy to get set up - with free Union help
if you needed it - and the wide aisles made getting around the show
even easier. Always the fear-mongers, the political right tries to
cast unions as greedy parasites, but these folks were friendly and
professional and competent.  I’ll take them over the fat cats and
lying politicians any day of the week.  But I digress.

The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center was the convention
hotel and I could probably make my GPS joke about it as well.  But
it was an excellent hotel with many amenities and fine restaurants
under its multiple roofs.  That first night, Bob Ingersoll and me
ate at Andiamos, a terrific Italian restaurant.  Andiamos was also
the setting for the Shel Dorf Awards banquet on Saturday night and
the party that followed the awards.  But I’m getting ahead of the
story here.

Saturday was FanFare’s first day of the show. There were so many
old friends to see and new friends to meet that it may take me a
couple of blogs to hit just the high points.  Not to mention your
faithful blogger’s weird Sunday morning adventures in the Marriott
lobby.  Follow the bouncing blogger and I’ll try to share my show
experiences with you.

I was at Table 128 with Michael L. Peters on one side and a sadly
absent Eddy Newell on the other.  Peters does amazing mythological
and fantasy drawings and paintings and has done some spiffy stories
for Heavy Metal.  You should check out his website.

At my table, I was selling copies of The Grim Ghost and 1000 Comic
Books You Must Read
...and also hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and
suitable-for-kids comics from my Vast Accumulation of Stuff.  The
bargain prices on the VAOS items attracted enough buyers for me to
cover my expenses and make a decent profit.  I also signed a bunch
of comic books I’d written.

The most frequently asked questions:

What’s it like working for Atlas?

Will there be a sequel to 1000 Comic Books You Must Read?

The answer to the first question is: I love working for Atlas and
its triumvirate of publishers.  Jason Goodman, Brendan Deneen, and
Richard Emms are good guys who allow me to write my stories my way
and treat me well.  There are so many comic books written by good
writers whose editors treat them like typists that I’m fortunate to
have found a situation so much more conducive to great comic books.
I don’t think I could have returned to comic-book writing without
that kind of attitude and support.

With Jason Goodman, I find myself working for a third generation of
the Goodman family.  I’m pretty sure Martin was still at Marvel at
the time I started, but I definitely worked for him and Chip when
I did a few jobs for the Atlas Comics of the 1970s.  Thus Jason is
my third generation of Goodman employers.  I feel like a faithful
family retainer, the Alfred of the Goodman family. 

The answer to the second question isn’t as cheery.  It’ll likely be
years before I write any sequel to 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.
Despite the success of the book - and that in spite of inadequate
effort from the F&W Media sales department - the publisher rejected
the sequel. I was asked to come up with other book ideas, but I’m
no longer interested in writing books for this publisher.

My reasons start with my having no confidence in a sales department
that didn’t do a good job with the first book and hasn’t promoted
the second printing at all, not even to resolicit it with Diamond.
Because, really, how many copies could we sell to the distributor

Then there’s the company’s complete failure to keep me in the loop
on my book.  I learned about the second printing when I ordered
pretty much the last copies of the first printing for my own use.
I only learned about my book being made available digitally when I
saw a press release about it.

Finally, there are the seeming inconsistencies that showed up on my
latest royalty statement.  Maybe I’m misreading the statement, but,
at the very least, the inconsistencies bear further investigation.

Though a sequel would be an enormous undertaking, I have several
other books on comics that won’t demand a year of my life and that
I want to do first.  I’ll be working on them in between comics
writing gigs. But, barring changes at F&W, I’ll be looking for new
publishers for these books.

Hmm...that wasn’t where I intended today’s blog to go.  Let’s meet
again tomorrow and return to the big fun of 2011's Detroit FanFare.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Friday, September 23, 2011


I’ll be on the road to the Detroit FanFare a few hours after I post
today’s blog.  It’ll be my second trip to this convention and I’m
looking forward to seeing old friends and new.

For most of the two-day show, you will find me at Table 128 between
Michael Peters (126) and Eddy Newell (130).  Bob Ingersoll will be
my booth babe. 

I’ll be selling copies of 1000 Comic Book You Must Read (first
printing) and, hopefully, The Grim Ghost.  I’ll be selling bargain-
priced hardcovers and trade paperbacks from my Vast Accumulation
of Stuff.  At your request, I’ll sign things I’ve written.

I’ll also be appearing on the “Playing with Icons of Comics” panel
on Saturday at 3 pm in the Gene Colan Memorial Room.  That should
be interesting, given my outspoken nature.

I am always interested in speaking with publishers, editors, and,
of course, artists who want to work with me.  I’m most interested
in paying gigs, but I keep an open mind when discussing potential
projects.  Bring your “A” game.  I always do.

For more information on the Detroit FanFare and its amazing roster
of guests, go here.:

Hope to see you there.


The most viewed installment of this blog to date has been “Return
of the Vile Thing,” my latest warning on the notorious Rick Olney.
The installment was written because Olney had announced yet another
convention, this despite a history of not paying creators and even
venues for his past events. 

Olney’s bad behavior has been so egregious for so long that there
are dozens of comics professionals who have tried to make sure he
doesn’t add any new victims to his list.  Our efforts in this new
case have been successful, as seen in this article posted by Rich
Johnston on his Bleeding Cool website.

In his report, Johnston incorrectly refers to Olney as a “disgraced
comic publisher.” Olney has never published a comic book, but does
owe in excess of $35,000 to creators who completed work for him.
A more correct description would be “disgraced convention organizer
and wannabe comic publisher.” 

In typical fashion, Olney blames everyone else for his new failure.
He blames the comics creators who thought he should pay his debts
before embarking on new ventures.  He blames the announced guests
who canceled their appearances after investigating Olney’s history.
This despite Olney never showing any evidence that he had anywhere
near the financial resources to host this event.

The one outstanding items of business from the Adirondack ComicFest
is Olney’s possession of Indiana Jones maps created by artist Matt
Busch as a fundraiser for a veterans organization.  The maps were
produced with the permission of Lucas Films. 

Olney never paid for the maps, nor did he ever reimburse Busch for
the shipping charges.  No verifiable veterans organization agreed
to allow him to use their name.  He has no permission to sell the
maps himself.  And, in response to a request to return them to the
artist, Olney, instead, threatened to destroy them.  Obviously, we
will be watching this situation closely.

In a flurry of insulting rants, Olney has tried to vilify everyone
who didn’t do what he wanted them to do.  He continues to make the
most absurd legal claims and threats, though there is no evidence
he has ever retained legal counsel in these matters.  Sadly, he’ll
likely continue this behavior until the day he dies and, just as
certainly, myself and others will continue to warn comicdom about
him whenever he makes his next move.


The second most viewed installment of this blog was “Jim Shooter’s
Pants Are on Fire.” The genesis of that was simple.  Shooter lied
about me and I corrected the record.  He’s lied about other comics
professionals as well, but I figure those still living can handle
their own issues with “Lurch Boy.” Since I wasn’t present for any
of the tales he’s spinning about comics creators no longer with us,
I can’t address those with the standard of certainty I hold myself
to in this blog.

My interest in Shooter’s alternate history of the universe is nil.
Yet readers keep trying to get me to write about him again.  I was
recently e-mailed about an installment of Shooter’s blog in which
Shooter apparently ran scans of internal correspondence from when
he was running Marvel editorial.

The reader wrote:

Shooter is publishing internal Marvel correspondence and memos.
Isn't there a legal consequence? I always thought one had to sign
a confidentiality agreement. Couldn't the former Editor and Chief
would be held accountable for saying negative comments about his
former employer and employees?

My response:

I don’t know what Shooter signed or how long it remains in effect,
so I don’t know that he breached anything beyond basic courtesy
in publishing the private correspondence from people who worked for
Marvel in those days.  It was a dick move, but, really, why would
that surprise anyone?

No one needs to send me anything else about what runs in Shooter’s
blog...unless it’s about me and it involves what he claims as fact.
I can’t imagine he’d be foolish enough to poke me again on matters
of fact and, whatever his opinions of me, they are inconsequential
to me. 

I am what I am, a writer who writes true things in my fiction and
my non-fiction.  The days when I gave a shiitake mushroom about
what the likes of Shooter thinks of me are long past.


More updates on this and that are on the way.  However, I’m taking
a few days off from posting blogs while I’m at the Detroit FanFare.
Depending on how exhausted I am when I return to Casa Isabella, I
will resume blogging on Wednesday or Thursday.

Comment moderation will be activated while I’m gone, meaning that
your comments won’t be published until I return.  You’re a terrific
group of readers, but it seems prudent of me to cover all the bases
while I’m out of town.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Part Six of Six

What I’m doing in this week’s blogs is bringing you a page-by-page
look at an Ant-Man story I wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#24 [Marvel; 1990].  I’ll be showing you my index card breakdowns
for the story, my plot, my script, and my placement of the script
copy on reduced photocopies of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the tale.
This story is © 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. and is being
presented here for educational purposes.

The index cards were a guide to help me stay within the five pages
I had been allotted for this story.  As you’ll see, I ran a couple
panels over.  Which was not a major concern.  I course corrected as
I wrote the finished plot.

Above is the published fifth and final page of this Ant-Man story
and below is my index card breakdown for that page:

In case my tiny printing on this scan is difficult to read clearly,
here’s what I wrote:


Scarlet Beetle slashes Ant-Man’s chest

Wounded Ant-Man uses helmet

Insects in chaos

Tunnel starts to collapse

Ant-Man frantically digging his way out

Ant-Man passes out

Scott Lang wakes up


Scott figures he might as well pack

Scott sees ripped costume

From the plot that was sent to editor Jim Salicrup and then Ditko,
here’s what I wrote for this final page:

PAGE FIVE: The chamber starts to collapse around a screaming Beetle
as he is smothered by the confused and panicked bugs.

Ant-Man is digging his way from the collapsed chamber.  He is
frantic. There isn’t much air left.

Ant-Man passes out.  We can’t tell here if he dug his way out or
not. It’s the suspense that gets me.

Cut to Scott Land waking up with a start in his dark bedroom.  He
hasn’t had a nightmare like that since he was a kid.  He’s glad no
one else is around.  He’d never live it down.

Scott gets out of bed.  He might as well finish packing.  Not much
chance of getting a good night’s sleep now.

Scott turns on the bedroom light and looks surprised.  He has on
his Ant-Man costume and it’s ripped where the Beetle had slashed
him.  But if it wasn’t a dream...

Extreme down shot of a dark corner of Scott’s bedroom.  There is a
glow visible.  It’s the same kind of glow that surrounded the
Scarlet Beetle. Boo!

With apologies for the quality of the scan, here’s Ditko’s pencils
and my copy placements:

And here’s the script for that page:

Rereading this story and script package for the first time in many
years, I think it turned out pretty good.  But I can’t believe that
I was able to type “confused and panicked bugs” without giggling.

About the only thing I would change is to have the story lettered
the same way those great “shock ending” stories were lettered back
in the 1960s.  Alas, neither Art Simek or Sam Rosen were still with
us in 1989.

I hope you enjoyed this series.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll give
you a quick update on this and that before heading to the Detroit

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Part Five of Six

What I’m doing in this week’s blogs is bringing you a page-by-page
look at an Ant-Man story I wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#24 [Marvel; 1990].  I’ll be showing you my index card breakdowns
for the story, my plot, my script, and my placement of the script
copy on reduced photocopies of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the tale.
This story is © 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. and is being
presented here for educational purposes.

A question asked: “Why this story?”

A question answered: “Because I had the complete script package for
it and thought it might entertain and inform my readers.

My goal for this Ant-Man adventure was to tell a satisfying story
within the limited page count I’d been allotted.  Every reader will
have to decide for themselves if I accomplished that goal.  I think
I did, but I’m hardly an unbiased reader in this case.

Above is the published fourth page of my Ant-Man story and below is
my index card breakdown for that page:

In case my tiny printing on this scan is difficult to read clearly,
here’s what I wrote:


Ant-Man gets his first look at Scarlet Beetle

Close-up of Scarlet Beetle holding helmet

Symbolic shot of humans bringing food offerings to Scarlet Beetle
on throne

Ant-Man breaks free of insects...

...and grabs the helmet

From the plot that was sent to editor Jim Salicrup and then Ditko,
here’s what I wrote for this fourth page:

PAGE FOUR: Wide-angle symbolic scene of humans bringing food to a
now human-size Scarlet Beetle.  If it doesn’t look too silly, the
Beetle can be sitting on some sort of throne. (Now a big with a
crown, that would be too silly.) A voice over caption here wraps up
the Beetle’s grandiose plans for world conquest.

Ant-Man, no longer dazed and realizing the seriousness of the
situation, grabs the helmet from the Scarlet Beetle.

The Beetle slashes the front of Ant-Man’s uniform with one of his
front arms.

The wounded Ant-Man uses the helmet to command the insects in the
chamber to attack the Scarlet Beetle.

The insects are confused by the conflicting commands they are
receiving.  It’s pure chaos as they attack each other.

With apologies for the quality of the scan, here’s Ditko’s pencils
and my copy placements:

And here’s the script for that page:

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of the story.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Part Four of Six

What I’m doing in this week’s blogs is bringing you a page-by-page
look at an Ant-Man story I wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#24 [Marvel; 1990].  I’ll be showing you my index card breakdowns
for the story, my plot, my script, and my placement of the script
copy on reduced photocopies of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the tale.
This story is © 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. and is being
presented here for educational purposes.

Something I should stress is that there’s no one right way to write
a comic-book story.  Because I was dealing with limited page counts
for these back-up stories, I broke them down on index cards first.
I sometimes do this with longer stories, but not always.

When I was writing Hawkman, there were a few times when I plotted
an issue on index cards, had a conversation with peerless penciler
Richard Howell about the issue, and then sent him the index cards
instead of a formal plot.  Conversely, I never used the index cards
method when writing The Grim Ghost

Because I had won the confidence of the Atlas crew, I was able to
develop a different method for writing The Grim Ghost.  I’d start
with a rough overview of the plot.  Then I’d block out each issue
scene by scene as I wrote the scenes.  Once I knew what needed to
happen in a scene, I wrote the captions and dialogue for each scene
first and then wrote the panel descriptions around the copy, albeit
cutting copy when necessary.  It got a little crazy for me with the
sixth and final issue of the first story arc - I wrote more than 22
pages and had to kill some of my darlings - but it was an exciting
way to work.  If the characters surprised me along the way, well,
that’s the reaction I wanted from the readers.  Experiencing that
while I wrote was a bonus for me.  

Above is the published third page of the Ant-Man story and below is
my index card breakdown for that page:

In case my tiny printing on this scan is difficult to read clearly,
here’s what I wrote:


Mind-controlled Scott gets out of bed

M-C Scott putting on Ant-Man costume
Three-panel shrinking sequence

Ant-Man is grabbed by insects...

...and carried away

From the plot that was sent to editor Jim Salicrup and then Ditko,
here’s what I wrote for this third page:

PAGE THREE: Three-panel sequence. Scott Lang has donned the Ant-Man
costume between pages.  He releases the shrinking gas from his belt
and shrinks down to the size of an ant as the weird voice commands
him to do.

Ant-Man comes to his senses as he is grabbed by several large
insects.  The weird voice is now commanding the insects.

The insects are carrying Ant-Man along an underground tunnel.  They
have removed his helmet and it’s being carried by a bug ahead of
the rest of them.  Ant-Man is having a hard time believing this is
really happening.

Ant-Man gets his first look at the Scarlet Beetle as the bugs carry
him into an open chamber.  The bug with the helmet is giving it to
the Scarlet Beetle.

Close-up of the Beetle holding the helmet.  His mutant powers have
developed to the point where he can – with great concentration -
control a human mind temporarily.  The helmet will increase this
power immeasurably once he learns how to use it.  He will rule two
worlds: insect and human.

If you’ve been comparing the index cards to my plot, you’ve noticed
that I don’t follow the index cards exactly.  The index cards are
a guide.  The plot is the more finished product.

If you’ve been comparing the plot to Ditko’s pencils, you’ll have
noticed he brings his own storytelling skill to the story.  Working
plot style, the artist should be free to stage scenes his own way.
As long as an artist includes all the necessary visual information,
I’m fine with that.  Working with Ditko, there was never any doubt
the art would show what it needed to show.

With apologies for the quality of the scan, here’s Ditko’s pencils
and my copy placements:

And here’s the script for that page:

Come back tomorrow for page four.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Monday, September 19, 2011


Part Three of Six

What I’m doing in this week’s blogs is bringing you a page-by-page
look at an Ant-Man story I wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#24 [Marvel; 1990].  I’ll be showing you my index card breakdowns
for the story, my plot, my script, and my placement of the script
copy on reduced photocopies of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the tale.
This story is © 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. and is being
presented here for educational purposes.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was doing this series of blogs,
he asked me what it was like to work with Steve Ditko.  Honestly,
outside of the solid storytelling and professionalism of Ditko, I
don’t have any impressions of working with this legendary artist.
He never communicated with me, directly or indirectly, nor I with
him.  I plotted this story and a second starring Captain Universe.
He drew them.  I scripted them.

To the best of my knowledge, I only met Ditko once.  It was during
my mercifully brief time as a DC Comics staffer.  Joe Orlando was
discussing Shade the Changing Man with Ditko and, when I walked by
his office, called me in to introduce me to Ditko.  I don’t recall
what I said at the time - probably something about how much I loved
Ditko’s work and had for years - and what Ditko said in response.
He struck me as a quiet guy.

This was before Shade was launched.  Later, whether it was on that
same day or a few weeks afterwards, Orlando gave me photocopies of
the first issue art and some sort of plot/overview of the series.
He asked me to read the material, then let him know what I thought
of it and if I wanted to script it. 

What I thought was that this first issue needed a better structure
and story flow, that there was too much I felt would be unclear to
the readers.  Since the deal going in was that Ditko would do all
the plotting and the scripter wouldn’t have any actual input into
the stories, I passed on the scripting gig.  I wanted to write my
stories, not someone else’s.

Above is the published second page of the Ant-Man story and below
is my index card breakdown for that page:

In case my tiny printing on this scan is difficult to read clearly,
here’s what I wrote:


“Most of us are unconcerned with the insect world...

Hank Pym on phone while cybernetic monitor

Scott Land on phone while packing

Scott hangs up phone amused

Scott holding up his Ant-Man costume

Scott tosses costume on chair near helmet

But while Scott sleeps...

From the plot that was sent to editor Jim Salicrup and then Ditko,
here’s what I wrote for this second page:

PAGE TWO: Insect point-of-view of people walking down a busy street
with various insects on the ground beneath their feet.  Few people
pay any attention to this world below them.

Cut to Doctor Pym staring at a cybernetic wave monitor in his
laboratory.  The monitor is showing weird patterns.  He’s speaking
into a communications headset he wears, talking about strange
signals he’s picking up in the vicinity.

Cut to Scott Lang in his bedroom packing a suitcase while he
listens to Pym (not shown) on a phone held between his titled head
and shoulder.  Pym wants Lang to check for anything unusual in the
insect world.  Lang says he’s getting ready to leave on a business
trip, but he’ll look into it when he gets back.

Scott hangs up the phone amused.  He thinks Pym is just a bit weird
for being so concerned about insect conversations.

Scott holds up his Ant-Man costume.  He’s trying to decide if he
wants to pack it for his trip.

The costume gets tossed on a chair.  Lang’s cybernetic helmet is on
a table next to the chair.  Lang (not seen) will decide when he
finished packing tomorrow.  He’s going to bed now.

Move forward to Scott in bed as a weird voice commands him to rise
and change to Ant-Man.  Lang’s eyes are open, but his mind is being

With apologies for the quality of the scan, here’s Ditko’s pencils
and my copy placements:

And here’s the script for that page:

Come back tomorrow for page three.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Part Two of Six

What I’m doing in this week’s blogs is bringing you a page-by-page
look at an Ant-Man story I wrote for The Amazing Spider-Man Annual
#24 [Marvel; 1990].  I’ll be showing you my index card breakdowns
for the story, my plot, my script, and my placement of the script
copy on reduced photocopies of Steve Ditko’s pencils for the tale.
This story is © 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc. and is being
presented here for educational purposes.

Above is the published first page of the story.  Here is the index
card breakdown for that page:

In case my tiny printing on this scan is difficult to read clearly,
here’s what I wrote:


Full-page splash. Symbolic shot of Scarlet Beetle ordering legion
of mind-controlled humans (including super-heroes like Iron Man,
Punisher, and Wolverine.
My plot started out with this note to Ditko:

Hi, Steve. I’ve got to tell you that working on this little story
with you is a real thrill for me.  I’ve designed it like the five-
page snap ending stories you used to do in the monster comics of
the 1960s. I’m going to script it in a style as close to those
stories as possible without going overboard.  Since we are limited
to five pages, I’ll need lots of room for captions and balloons on
these pages.  I’ve tried to plan the visuals accordingly.

You’ll need reference on:

ANT-MAN (the new Scott Lang version);

IRON MAN, THE PUNISHER, and WOLVERINE (who appear only in the
splash panel as mind-controlled slaves of the villain);

DOCTOR PYM (Hank Pym; the original Ant-Man); and,

THE SCARLET BEETLE. I’ll save everybody time by copying this
villain’s only two appearances and sending them along.  This is an
incredibly obscure villain.

If you have any questions on this plot, feel free to call me.  I
work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is when I put my little boy to
bed.  Call any time within those hours.

Here we go...

PAGE ONE: Full-page splash. The title will go at the top of the
page with a burst (STARRING ANT-MAN or something) under it and to
the left.  There’ll be another burst/caption in the lower right
corner.  The scene is a symbolic shot of a huge Scarlet Beetle
ordering a horde of brain-controlled humans (including Iron Man,
the Punisher, and Wolverine) to attack a worried Ant-Man.  Ant-Man
has raised his arms to ward off the blows sure to come when this
horde reaches him.  Credits will run along the bottom of the page.

With apologies for the quality of the scan, here’s Ditko’s pencils
and my copy placements:

And here’s the script for that page:

Come back tomorrow for page two.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Part One of Six

It wasn’t exactly a lost ark, but the file cabinet in what used to
be my downstairs office hadn’t been opened in a decade and a half.
I’ve just started to explore this five-drawer monstrosity, but one
of the first treasures I found was the complete “script package” to
a story I wrote for Marvel Comics in late 1989.

Earlier that year, I had closed my Cosmic Comics store.  It was the
victim of landlord malice, rising crime by customers and employees
alike, large unpaid invoices for merchandise sold to a non-profit
organization with which I was involved and which never paid for the
goods and, I must admit, a series of unfortunate decisions I made.

I went to work for one of the most despicable individuals I’ve ever
met.  I worked for him for three months, quitting at the end of the
day I confronted him about his sexual harassment of a young woman
working for us on a part-time basis.  She was a rape survivor.  I
arranged her schedule so she could go to the trial of the serial
rapist who had attacked her and several other women.  Her and the
other women wanted to be there every day to show support for each
other.  I made sure her schedule let her do that.

Mister Despicable had been pressing the woman to have sex with him.
When she accompanied him to a convention, he refused to get her a
hotel room of her own.  Fortunately, she had a friend with her own
hotel room.  The woman was in tears when she asked if I could talk
to our boss.  She needed this job, but the strain of the constant
sexual harassment, combined with the trial, was using up all of her

Mister Despicable was a lawyer, though he has since been stripped
of his license to practice.  He knew what he was doing was sexual
harassment.  I told him he had to stop this behavior.  His clients
included prostitutes and he was already having sex with them.  He
needed to leave our employee alone.

He became enraged, his pig-like eyes shrinking into black dots of
malevolence.  He jabbed his fat finger at me and said:

“This is none of your business.  If I want to fuck the bitch, I’ll
fuck the bitch!”

He stormed out of the store.  I figured he was going to one of his
prostitutes while he planned some new vileness to inflict on our
employee.  Whoever she was, I pitied that luckless prostitute.  My
boss was an evil man who enjoyed abusing women and anyone else he
could.  In that moment, I knew I absolutely could not work even one
more day for him.

I gathered up my personal belongings and wrote a terse letter of
resignation.  I related the above to the employee and recommended
she find another job.  Eventually, she did.  At the end of the day,
I locked the store and tossed my store keys through the mail slot.

I went back once to get my last paycheck and purchase some comics
I had pre-ordered for myself.  The paycheck was a few dollars short
and the new manager refused to honor the employee discount that was
in effect when I ordered the comics.  I took the paycheck and left
the comics behind. 

There’s much more to the story of Mister Despicable, but that grim
story is best left for another time.  Telling you even this much of
that period is as much as I can handle right now.

Jim Salicrup was the Spider-Man editor back then.  He was a fan of
my writing and a close friend.  He started hiring me for a variety
of assignments: short stories for his Spider-Man annuals, a handful
of Rocket Racer tales for the mostly-reprint Marvel Tales and even
a three-issue stint on Web of Spider-Man.

Jim Salicrup was my angel, my hero, my savior.  I was a relatively
new father, my son Eddie having been born in June of 1988.  I was
without gainful employment and depressed that I wasn’t contributing
much to our family and household.  I could make a few bucks selling
my own comics and stuff at local comic-book shows, but that usually
meant enduring constant threats from Mister Despicable.  Promoters
soon learned to position us at opposite ends of their events or to
only sell tables to one of us.  For my sanity and lingering sense
of self-worth, I needed something more.

Jim Salicrup came to the rescue. He never made the assignments seem
like charity.  He wanted to work with me and, as it turns out, he
was one of the finest editors I have worked with in my four decades
in comics.  He knew his stuff, he was fun to work with, he made me
feel valuable, and he always played it straight.  Anyone who has a
problem with Jim, well, then they have a problem with me as well.
And you know what a vengeful bastard I can be.

The first assignment was a five-page Ant-Man story - Scott Lang was
in the costume then - to be drawn by Steve Ditko.  I was thrilled.
I pitched a nutty idea to Jim and he okayed it.

The evolution of my Ant-Man story from idea to finished script went
like this:

Using index cards, I broke down the story panel by panel and page
by page.  I have those original index cards.

I wrote a detailed plot for Ditko, keeping the panel descriptions
as brief as possible because...because he was Steve Ditko for God’s
sake!  He probably didn’t need as much description as I gave him.
Anyway, I have the original plot for the story as well.

Ditko pencilled the story.  Photocopies of the pages were mailed to
me for scripting.  I scripted the story and did copy placements on
the photocopies.  I have my original script and reduced photocopies
of my copy placements.  In case you’re wondering, scripting these
Ditko pages was a breeze.  Everything he draw was in service of the
story, which is what you expect from a master storyteller.

Starting tomorrow, I’m going to present this Ant-Man adventure to
you page by page...from index cards to plot to pencils to script,
all the way to the finished story.  It won’t be as much laugh-out-
loud fun as when I pick on Jim Shooter and Dan DiDio, but it will
give you a look at how this “industry veteran” did it back in 1989.

See you then.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Friday, September 16, 2011


Many comics bloggers write about Diamond’s Previews catalog every
month.  Though I sometimes find this interesting, it’s one of those
things I honestly believed I’d never do here.  Others would include
speculating about comic books before I’ve read them...or going to
a comics shop every Wednesday and then rushing home to quickly read
whatever I bought so I could write about it that night.  I like to
savor the comic books I read, carefully consider their quality or
lack thereof, and write about them when I think I have something to
say about them that I would want to read if I weren’t writing it.
I’m a crazy old rebel, I am.

My resistance has wavered this month because the September Previews
had four items that so tickled me I wanted to comment on them.  If
I managed to post the image correctly, you have doubtless seen the
first of them at the top of today’s blog.

Marvel: Thor’s Hammer Sculpted Bottle Opener [$22].  It’s a bottle
opener and Thor’s hammer.  That’s just cool.  I might need to get
a few of these for myself and for holiday gifts.  It even comes in
a collector’s case, but, verily, by the power of mighty Mjolnir, I
would be sore disappointed in any mortal who, on receiving such a
treasure, did not immediately use it to open a cold one. 

Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is more than just
one of my favorite programs.  It’s intelligence therapy in the midst
of a country getting dumber by the minute as the right continues to
confuse greed, insanity and intolerance with leadership.

Given my high regard for The Daily Show, how can I not be excited
to see a solicitation for Shame Itself [$3.99], a one-shot written
by the writers of that program?  Especially when one of the writers
is Wyatt Cenac, the most brilliant young comic to hit the airwaves
in years?  My funny bone throbs in anticipation! 

The third item also comes from Marvel: Essential Sgt. Fury Vol. 1
[$19.99].  The 544-page tome reprints issues #1-23 as well as the
15-page story from the first Sgt. Fury Annual in which the Howling
Commandoes reunite for a Korean War mission.  All these stories are
written by Stan Lee with art by either Jack Kirby or Dick Ayers.
It’s a huge chunk of entertaining reading with a couple stories I
would rank as classics.  I’m looking forward to it.

I only spotted the fourth item because I’m obsessive about looking
through the entire catalog every month.  Which isn’t easy given the
tedium of sections focusing on some prolific publishers.  More than
often than not, I’m gasping for air by the time I get through low-
class outfits like Bluewater, though, to be fair, my low opinion of
that company is based partly on their deplorable talent contracts.
But I digress. 

From Lerner Publishing Group comes Lily Renée, Escape Artist: From
Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer
[$7.95] by Trina Robbins
with art by Anne Timmons and Mo Ho.  While I knew Renée’s terrific
art from Fiction House features like Jane Martin and Senorita Rio,
and from romance stories for St. John, I’ve only recently learned
of the path that brought her to America (fleeing from the Nazis as
a teen) and very little of her life before, during, and after her
comics career.  Though the 96-page book is aimed at younger readers
(ages 9-12), Robbins is one of the leading historians in comics and
THE leading expert on women cartoonists. Any book she writes has a
place in my comics library.   

I’m off to Columbus to celebrate my daughter Kelly’s 20th birthday.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Thursday, September 15, 2011


It’s actually 32 days of blogging in this particular venue, but I
wasn’t keeping track and let my "monthiversary" pass without mention
before today.  I have over 50 followers and over 12,000 page views.
I don’t know if those are good numbers or not. 

The most viewed blogs have been “Return of the Vile Thing” and “Jim
Shooter’s Pants Are on Fire,” each with over 800 views.  You must
like reading about the bad boys. 

Rick Olney is still promoting his almost certainly not gonna happen
comics convention.  After receiving at least one letter from a real
attorney - Olney is notorious for claiming he has an army of legal
beagles at his command - Olney finally removed the names of several
guests who canceled their appearances after learning his history.
He is still claiming that a special Indiana Jones map is going to
be available at his non-event, even though the creator of the map
has pulled out of the show and wants the maps back.  This can only
go from bad to worst for Olney.

Jim Shooter? He’s still tall.  I assume he’s still blogging.  The
esteemed Harlan Ellison called me the other night to remind me of
the secret origin of the “Lurch” insult I directed at Shooter.  It
was what jurors secretly called Shooter after he testified at the
court proceedings in the lawsuit of “Michael Fleisher V. The Comics
Journal and Harlan Ellison,” which probably wasn’t the actual name
of the proceedings, but I don’t feel like looking it up.  Shooter
was supposed to be Fleisher’s killer witness, but the jury didn’t
believe him and, even less helpful to Fleisher’s ridiculous case,
didn’t like him even one small bit. I imagine Shooter’s version of
those events casts him as the Atticus Finch of comics.  The world
inside Shooter’s head has to be so much kinder to him that the one
the rest of us live in.

There is a pile of things to write about on top of my Sainted Wife
Barb’s hope chest.  Mostly we’re hoping to find the key that opens
it while we’re young enough to lift the lid.  But I digress and, as
noted, there are things to write about.


Via my local library, I got and read The Marvels Project: Birth of
the Super Heroes
[$34.99] by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.  I had
read a few issues of the eight-issue series previously, but sitting
down with the entire story was far more enjoyable.  The writing was
first rate with believable characterization throughout.  Epting’s
art was dynamic and told the story well.  The changes to previously
established continuity all made sense to me.  The cover gallery and
news stories clipped from The Daily Bugle were neat additions.  I
may have to buy a copy of this one.

ISBN 978-0-7851-4630-8


Not enjoyable for me was Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked
Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can
Teach Us About Being Human
[Spiegel & Grau; $28]. The pretentious
title was the least of my problems with the 13 pages of the book I
managed to read before sending it back to the library.

Morrison seemed dismissive of the inequities and indignities that
were visited on Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a
not uncommon trait of DC Comics employees.  Then there were a few
minor errors of fact.  But what ultimately ended my reading of this
book was when Morrison gleefully talked about how wonderful it was
that Superman was “set free of his creators.”

Arrogant and dickish in one phrase. Well played, sir. Assuming
that’s what you were going for. 

ISBN 978-1-4000-6912-5


A great many online bloggers and columnists are reviewing each and
every one of DC’s 52 reboots within days of their arrival at their
friendly neighborhood comics shop.  I feel no such urgency.  In the
fullness of time, a buddy of mine will loan me these books.  With
an open mind, I will read them...because I think it would terrific
for the comics industry if DC made a bunch of money off these new
books and a million times more terrific if the writers and artists
working on them were suitable enriched for their work.  But, again,
no sense of urgency to review them...which I’ll probably only do if
they are really good or really bad.

However, it’s been brought to my attention that Omac #1, featuring
the character created by the legendary Jack Kirby, does not have a
creator’s credit for Kirby.  The series is co-written by Dan DiDio
and co-written and drawn by Keith Giffen, who has been known to do
an obvious Kirby imitation.  

I know DiDio didn’t want my creator credit on Black Lightning Year
and actually tried to get away with that to the extent that the
first printing of the first issue lacked that credit. Then he got
my credit wrong for two or three issues, using “Anthony Isabella,”
a name I have never used professionally.  That’s typical behavior
for the woefully untalented DiDio. credit for Jack Kirby?  The King of Comics?  That’s a big
WTF moment if ever there was one.

I wonder if there is anyone working at DC with the stones to call
DiDio on this one. Probably not. Heck, there probably aren’t very
much industry pros not working at DC with the stones to step up and
do the right thing.  Sigh.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Darling Love

Tony's Back Pages:
Darling Love

[This material originally appeared in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1682.]

Based on this issue, Darling Love (Archie/Close-Up; April-May 1950)
could have been called He-Man Romances. The male leads are a bunch
of tough guys.  A lumberjack whose passion for his boss’s daughter
enrages his boss.  A married doctor fighting malaria in the jungles
of Manila.  A “sandhog” who loves his boss’s daughter, an engineer
determined to prove herself as tough as any tunnel-digging hunk.
An oil-company engineer whose young wife is struggling to accept
their lonely and sparse life in the oil fields.  It’s a virtual
testosterone fest!

On the issue’s cover is “Imogene Williams, Warner Bros starlet”.
A quick check of her IMDB credits IMDB credits.  Makes
me wonder who she really was.

Darling Love is truly a comics magazine. The inside front cover is
a contents page featuring staff credits. Marie Antoinette Park is
the editor of record with other women listed as executive editor,
story editor, and production manager.  Art Director Milton Sorul is
the title’s art director.

In addition to the four comics stories, there are several shorter
prose features. These are poems, record and movie reviews, a piece
on handwriting, recipes, fashion tips, and that romance comic book
standby, the personal problems advice column.

There isn’t the slightest hint of Archie Comics here.  Though I’m
unable to identify the writers and artists who created these tales,
their work is dramatic with lots of emotion and, when called for,
exciting action.  There are adult themes; the malaria-fighting doc
strays when his nurse puts the moves on him.  If I didn’t know that
Close-Up was an Archie Comics imprint, I would never guess it from
this issue.

Darling Love ran 11 issues.  Darling Romance, its companion comic,
ran seven. I was impressed enough by this issue that I’ll keep an
eye out for any other reasonably-priced comics of these two titles.
I recommend you do the same.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


[This material originally appeared in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1682.]

The cover says Kevin Keller #1, but the indicia says Veronica #207
[Archie Comics; $2.99].  Either way, this first of four issues is
one of the best comic books of the year from a publisher who’s been
knocking them out of the park on a regular basis. 

Kevin is a gay teenager recently moved to Riverdale.  The nature of
the all-ages Archie titles is such that we haven’t seen anything of
the negativity too many gay teens face in the real world. On the
other hand, I love that Kevin has supportive friends and parents.
If his lot is easier than some, well, that sort of goes with living
in Riverdale.  Heck, if I knew where Riverdale was, I’d have moved
there years ago.

Writer/penciller Dan Parent tells an amusing story that includes an
intriguing shadow of things to come: Kevin’s desire to follow his
dad into military service.  Kudos also go to inker Rich Koslowski,
letterer Jack Morelli, and everyone else who worked on the issue.
I’m still waiting for the issue when Kevin actually goes out on a
date, but Archie Comics have already taken bigger steps that many
other comics publishers and certainly more than any other all-ages
publisher in memory.


Archie has a healthy trade paperback program going, collecting its
multi-issue stories into spiffy volumes.  Not only are the stories
themselves entertaining, but the collections also contain extras of
interest to comics fans.

Archie & Friends: Night at the Comic Shop [$9.95} reprints the pair
of two-issue stories wherein characters from non-Archie comics of
the 1940s and 1950s crossed over into modern Riverdale. Written by
Fernando Ruiz with pencils by Ruiz and Bill Galvin and inks by Jim
Amash, the stories are hilarious and nostalgic fun.  Also included
in this book is a 29-page “Who’s Who in the MLJ Universe” that is
breathtaking in its coverage of dozens of interesting characters.
Writers Paul Castiglia and Ian Flynn contributed to this section.
For me, this book is a must-have.

ISBN: 978-1-879794-69-6

Archie: The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. [$9.95] reprints the four-
issue story by writer Tom DeFalco with penciller Fernando Ruiz and
inker Rich Koslowski. It’s an entertaining thriller that featured
Mad Doctor Doom and the villainous organization C.R.U.S.H. Backing
up the espionage excitement was a selection of “top secret” files
and an incredible find: a never-before-published adventure starring
Archie’s cousin, special agent Andy Andrews.  The story was written
and drawn by the great Harry Lucey in the 1950s and is a straight-
on Cold War mystery. Another must-have book.

ISBN: 978-1-879794-68-9


One of my favorite super-hero comic books is Mr. Jigsaw by writer
Ron Fortier and artist Gary Kato [Redbud Studio; $2.99 per issue].
The “Man of a Thousand Parts” is likeable Charlie Grant who has the
astonishing ability to split off those thousand parts from his body
while controlling them all.  He’s a traditional “white hat” super-
hero but he never strikes me as corny or out-of-fashion.  Indeed,
we could use more super-heroes like him.

Issues #7-9 offer a variety of story types.  The first of the three
issues has “The Secret Life of Charlie Grant,” a fanciful look at
the hero’s daydreams.

Issue #8 is a moving tale of heroism and sacrifice for the greater
good. It’s more serious than most of Jiggy’s adventures, but is far
from lacking in humor.

Issue #9 has three short stories: “A Puzzle Called Charlie,” “The
Boring Captain Yawn,” and “Mr. Jigsaw’s Secret Love Child.” Despite
the wacky laughs to be found in each of these tales, they also have
a core of real humanity that delights me.

You don’t need a vast army of super-heroes to tell great super-hero
stories.  You just need one remarkable character and a supporting
cast that fulfills that role magnificently. So why are you reading
all those big company super-hero comics you don’t really enjoy when
you could be reading Mr. Jigsaw instead?

To order issues of Mr. Jigsaw, go here:


One more for the road and a wild road it will be if you take your
Tipster’s advice and get yourself a copy of The Comeback Kings #1
[Ardeen; $2.99]. The world is in desperate need of saving and that
means an elite team of “dead” celebrities - Bruce Lee, Elvis, Jimi
Hendrix, Tupac, and, yes, comedian Andy Kaufman - must return from
their faked demises.  A sixth king is revealed on the final page of
this debut issue, but I don’t want to spoil anymore surprises than
necessary to get you to check out this series.

Writers Matt Sullivan and Gabe Guarente have created this semi-dark
satire that cries out for a long-life in comics and - dare I say? -
a big-screen motion picture. You could have hours of fun deciding
what actors would play these wonderful roles.

The issue does suffer from a lack of color, but artist Ethan Young
has delivered a creditable job of capturing the aged likenesses of
the cast and of telling the story. I note the lack of any comeback
queens in this first issue, but, hey, hopefully, we’ll see some of
the ladies in the near future.  I vote for Marilyn.

In the interest of full disclosure, Ardeen is the company that has
teamed with Jason Goodman’s Atlas Comics to publish The Grim Ghost
title written by me, and I work closely with Ardeen editor and co-
publisher Brendan Deneen. But, as veteran readers of this column
know, I rarely hesitate to bite the various hands that feed me when
it comes to presenting my honest recommendations or warnings about
comics reviewed here.

If you want a second opinion, my son Eddie Isabella, a super-senior
at The Ohio State University and a rock-and-roll expert, liked this
first issue as well. Two Isabellas can’t be wrong.

Comeback Kings is intended for mature readers.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. 

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Monday, September 12, 2011


[This material originally appeared in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1682.]

“It’s a proud and lonely thing to be a fan.”

- Robert Bloch, “A Way of Life,” Fantastic Universe [October 1956].

I’m celebrating the golden anniversary of modern comics fandom this
time around.  I stress “modern” because there were clearly comics
fans and even comics fanzines before 1961.  But there’s no denying
the impact made by and my own debt to pioneers like Jerry Bails,
Roy Thomas, and Don and Maggie Thompson. I doubt I’d be here - and
by “here,” I mean both still working in the comics industry and
still enjoying the fun of comics - if I hadn’t the good fortune to
have connected with them at various times in my life. 

Comics fandom is generally considered to have taken its cues from
the older science fiction fandom.  In some ways, comics fandom has
surpassed its mentor; in other ways, not so much.  The above quote
comes from science fiction fandom.

While “pride” in one’s fandom is a thing of individual inclination,
I’m not sure “lonely” is nearly as applicable as it once was.  We
have dozens of fairly major comics conventions every year and nigh-
weekly smaller ones across the land.  We have friendly neighborhood
comic-book shops where we can meet and socialize with our fellow
comics afficionados. And we have the Internet.

While I may consider myself a proud fan, I rarely feel lonely these
days. I can go to comics conventions, comics shops, and meetings of
comics fans. At any time, day or night, I can communicate with my
fellow comics fans online.  Some I know well, some I am “meeting”
for the first time. 

When I first began corresponding with fans whose names I found in
the comic-book letters pages of the 1960s, when I began writing for
every comics fanzine that would have me, I felt an actual sense of
community.  Outside of my own family, I’d never felt that before.

Not in school, not in my neighborhood, not in the various scouting
and other organizations I joined.  I was part of all those, but I
always felt like an outsider.

The families we build for ourselves can be as loving and supportive
as those we are born into.  That’s been my experience with comics.

Oh, sure, I’ve run into plenty of bad sorts along the way. Crooks
and liars, insufferable egotists and weaselly back stabbers, self-
loathing snarks and delusional leeches.  But their numbers remain
insignificant when compared to the thousands of great comics fans
and creators I’ve met over the years.  Some I’ve known for decades
and some I’ve just recently met.  Though we might argue unto the
death if Marvel is better than DC or Superman is stronger than Thor
- the correct answers are Marvel is better and Superman is stronger
- we’re usually there for one another.  Recommending our favorite
comics, sharing information, and even helping a guy with somewhat
limited computer skills - like, for example, me - with some timely
research when he’s on a deadline.  Comics fans are a decent bunch
and I’m proud to be one of them.

It’s also been said (morphing D.B. Thompson’s 1943 article title
“Fandom as a Way of Life”) that “fandom is a way of life.” You’ll
get no argument from me on that score.  It’s not the way of life,
but it’s got a lot going for it. We’re a community that expects the
best of one another and is uncommonly forgiving when we fall short
of our loftiest ideals.  If you approach comics fandom with
bitterness or as some sort of opportunity to scam others, you’ll be

If you approach it with clean hands and good intent, you’ll have a
wonderful time.

Here’s to comics fandom, my brothers and sisters. Here’s to decades
of great comic books and to many more decades, nay, centuries, of
great comic books to come. Can I get an “Amen!”?


MAD #510 [E.C. Publications; $5.99] had me from Mark Frederickson’s
cover. Not only was the image of Alfred E. Neuman as Green Lantern
hilarious, but the cover copy was just perfect:

In dumbest day
In dimmest night
We’re looking for readers
Who ain’t too bright!

Inside, besides an entertaining spoof of the Green Lantern movie by
writer Desmond Delvin and artist Tom Richmond, there are many funny
features by a corps of rib-tickling talents like Jeff Kruse, Sergio
Aragones, Nick Meglin, Sam Vivano, Al Jaffee, and more. A series of
“Terminator” posters had me chuckling, as did “The Fundalini Pages”
and “The Strip Club.” Those last two showcase multiple creators and
add to the refreshing variety found in today’s MAD. This isn’t your
father’s MAD or even your grandfather’s MAD, but it’s a creditable
humor magazine that has earned my subscription money.

Cracked was MAD’s most successful imitator back in its heyday, but,
these days, it’s enjoying an online rebirth as “” The
website offers a cornucopia of articles, videos, and photo features
created by a small army of wacky writers.  Over three dozen of the
site’s funniest pieces have been collected in You Might Be a Zombie
and Other Bad News
[Plume; $14].

Lovers of lists will get a chilling kick out of articles like “The
Five Most Horrifying Bugs in the World,” “The Six Most Depressing
Happy Endings in Movie History,” “Four Things Your Mom Said Were
Healthy That Can Kill You,” and “The Five Creepiest Urban Legends
That Happen to be True.” One of my personal favorites in the book
is Michael Swaim’s “Five Classic Cartoon Characters with Traumatic
Childhoods.” None of the pieces is more than a few pages in length,
making for quick laughs whenever you have a few minutes to spare in
your busy day.  With 35 writers and 14 illustrators, You Might Be
a Zombie
adds up to one very funny book.

ISBN: 978-0-452-29639-8


The Best of Battle [Titan Books; $19.95] reprints nearly 300 pages
of densely-plotted episodes from one of the great British weeklies.
There are 17 different series represented in this book from well-
known classics like “Charley’s War” to more obscure (on this side
of the pond, at least) strips like “D-Day Dawson,” “Hold Hill 109,”
and “Panzer G-Man.” Each series is introduced with commentary from
one of its creators or editors.

The episodes run 3-5 pages in length and I continually marveled at
how much story Battle’s writers and artists managed to squeeze into
that length.  Characterization was often one-note, but that single
note would be loud and proud.  There are even a handful of strips
with German soldiers who, to a man, hate the Nazis more than their
American and British foes.

If I were a British lad of the 1970s, I would irresistibly drawn to
the tough writing and gritty art found in these tales.  As an aging
Yank pushing 60s, I’m drawn to them as well.  I wish someone would
publish weekly comics like Battle in this country.  Failing that,
I hope there are more Best of Battle volumes coming.

ISBN: 9-781-8485-6025-3

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. 

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Sunday, September 11, 2011


It was ten years ago today my county was traumatized by the worst
attack on our people on our own soil in my lifetime.  Over three
thousand innocent lives snuffed out by cold-blooded killers driven
by hate and an inhuman political/religious agenda.

It is ten years later and I am still angry beyond my meager ability
to express it fully.  But my anger goes beyond that I feel towards
killers already beyond my reach and, hopefully, suffering in a Hell
worse than I can imagine.

I tried to write today’s comments a dozen times over the past three
days and now in the wee hours of this Sunday morning.  On this day,
my thoughts should be with the victims of the attacks and all those
they left behind...and they are.  But there is also that terrible
anger I feel in so many different ways.

An aside.  Every time I tried to express myself and failed, I took
my blood pressure.  I don’t know why I did that.  I’m not usually
that obsessed with it.  Every time I checked, my blood pressure had
gone up a few points.  Getting these words down might be some sort
of survival mechanism kicking in.

I am angry that Saudi Arabia got a pass in the aftermath of those
attacks because of its special relationship with the Bush family.
The obscenely wealthy potentates of that nation had been sponsors
of terrorism in the past and are likely still sponsoring terrorists

I am angry that President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney,
and others of their cell lied the United States into an unnecessary
war against a country that did not attack us and, in doing so, are
responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.  I am angry that
they undermined my country’s highest moral traditions by torturing
our enemies and, often, those who were not our enemies until we did
torture them.  I am angry that they will likely never face justice
in a court of law, though the noted prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi put
forth a most compelling case in his 2008 book, The Prosecution of
George W. Bush for Murder.

I am angry that our soldiers, those who lost lives and limbs doing
their duty, have been treated so shabbily by those in power.  I am
angry that New York’s first responders have been denied the medical
help they deserve by bastards who fall back on the usual ignorance
of the right: that the science on the cause of their cancers isn’t
complete yet.

I am angry at how the right took the fear and uncertainty that we
all felt ten years ago and used it to fuel a repressive agenda that
trashed civil liberties, vilified all who expressed views opposing
theirs, and fomented a religious intolerance that has grown into a
dehumanizing of any who stand in the way of their agenda.  We saw
Muslims, foreigners, immigrants legal and otherwise, liberals, gays,
teachers, union workers, and, ultimately, even policemen and firemen
cast as the villains in an mean-spirited agenda determined to make the
most wealthy even more wealthy and widen the already cavernous gap
between the obscenely rich and the rest of us.

I am angry that bigotry, greed, ignorance, and lust for power drive
the Republican Party and their insane Tea Party cousins...and that
many Americans refuse to recognize this.

I am angry that the Democrats have been such moral cowards and, all
too often, co-conspirators in that bigotry, greed, ignorance, and
lust for power when they should be opposing the agenda of the right
at every juncture and with the same anger that courses through me.

I am angry that voter repression is being visited upon citizens by
the Republicans in power, using the flimsy paranoid context of the
voter fraud that has only rarely been proven and then only in the
most minuscule of evidence. 

I am angry.

I am angry at myself for not being able to give proper remembrance
to those innocents who were murdered ten years ago today and whose
families will mourn them forever.  I am angry that I am compelled
to use the anniversary of their deaths to express myself in such a
manner.  And I am saddened that this might well be the best way I
can honor their memories.

Know this...

There is grief in my anger.  There is fear in my anger.  There is
hope in my anger that my country might yet be turned from the
cruel and ignorant path the right would have us walk.

Ten years ago, our world changed.

There is still time to change it again.

This time, for the better.  

© 2011 Tony Isabella

Saturday, September 10, 2011

I DIED IN 1998

Today’s installment takes some explaining.  Back in the day, Comics
Buyer’s Guide would publish a yearbook in trade paperback format.
Sometimes, editors Don and Maggie Thompson would ask me to write a
special “Tony’s Tips” column for these annuals.  Writing my usual
review column never seemed special enough, so I usually went a
little crazy.  The following reprint comes from the 1993 edition of
the Comics Buyer’s Guide Annual.  If any of the references baffle
you, join the club.  I can’t remember all of them either.


Marvel Comics did eventually take over the entire world.  Not to
mention the Moon, Mars, and several large asteroids.

My name is Tony Isabella and I used to write a humor/review column
for Comics Buyer’s Guide.  I mean, I write a humor/review column
for CBG.  Tense gets confusing when you’re time-faxing material
back across the decades.

Maybe I better start this column over.

I died in 1998 of Neil Gaiman’s Disease, a condition brought on by
years of near unprecedented success in my field.  It was a rare
ailment, but the two years prior to my demise had seen the loss of
such revered colleagues as Neil himself (the first to succumb to
this then-incurable killer), Chris Claremont, Veronique L. Marquez,
and Peter David.

Peter’s funeral was televised on the Image Network.  I said a few
eulogistic words.  A teary Todd McFarlane was the urn bearer.  It
got a 19.3 share.

1998 had been a good year.  I’d made a clean sweep of all the
comics awards for my work on Black Lightning, despite artist Eddy
Newell taking two issues off to paint President Clinton’s official

The Black Lightning television show was winning its time slot week
after week, providing a strong lead-in to Cindy Goff and Rafael
Nieves’ Tales from the Heart. We each had two of the nominations
for “best script” in the Emmy Awards.  The final nomination went to
Mark Evanier’s Crossfire.

My “Tony’s Tips” column was now being syndicated in 3200 newspapers

I didn’t expect to win the Emmy, but I was prepared for that
pleasant surprise.  My short speech thanked my wife Barbara, my
children Eddie, Kelly Rose, and Jerome Joseph, my editors, my
collaborators, and my best friends Bob Ingersoll and Madonna. There
was the usual applause.

What threw me was the second Emmy, a special award for promoting
social responsibility in television.  It was being presented by
Mother Theresa.  There was a standing ovation.  I collapsed in mid-
stage, inches away from accepting the award.

I remember my last moments in fragments.  Black Lightning producer
Don McGregor trying to clear the stage so medical attention could
reach me.  Looking up into Naomi Campbell’s worried face - she was
“Gail Harris” on the series - as she held my hand and cooed words
of reassurance.  Barb’s voice as she rushed to my side.  The dark
falling over me like a warm comforter.  I don’t think I felt cold
until I started to regain consciousness.

That was over 100 years later.

My winning two Emmys in one year had activated a performance clause
in my Black Lightning contract.  Minutes after being pronounced
dead, I was rushed to a cryonics facility to be preserved until a
cure could be found for Gaiman’s Disease. There I lay for long
decades while medical research moved persistently if slowly toward
my eventual reanimation.

A cure was discovered in 2089.  Unfortunately, the prime ingredient
was a substance found only in the conscience of lawyers.  As you
can imagine, this rare enzyme was in exceedingly short supply.
Only one victim of Gaiman’s Disease could be revived every two
years or so.  The Committee for Revivification passed me over for
Woody Allen in 2110, Barbara Bush in 2112, and a left-handed
pitcher in 2114.  The Mets were in a pennant race, their first one
since the franchise moved to Mars.

I owed my revival to Marvel Comics.  My first professional writing
of any note was done for Marvel in the early 1970s: Ghost Rider,
the Living Mummy, and many others.  When the Topps Company bought
Marvel-Fleer in 1999, editorial director and publisher Jim Salicrup
began a series of Isabella Archives books reprinting my stories.
The volumes were kept in print for the next 30 years.  My kids went
to Space College on the royalties.

Under Salicrup’s extraordinary creative mind and savvy management,
Marvel soon became the most successful arm of the cards and comic
books conglomerate.  By 2039, the vast entertainment organization
was known simply as Marvel.  Everyone in the three worlds knew
exactly what that verb cum cognomen stood for.

Marvel’s growing domination of the entertainment field continued in
an unbroken rise year after year, slowing only during the Tobacco
Wars of 2052 and 2055.  Ironically, it was a chemist at a minor
Marvel research facility, acquired when Marvel bought out Image,
Inc. several years earlier, who brought an end to the bloody
conflict with her invention of a non-toxic and ozone-producing
cigarette.  Smoking became socially acceptable once more, despite
attempts by rapacious sun block manufacturers to legislate further
restrictions on it.  The world’s climate, both emotionally and
meteorologically, improved considerably.  This paved the way for
the even greater growth to follow.

Marvel’s main focus remained on their comic books, which had become
a staple in 90& of all households.  Characters were allowed to
reach a natural conclusion to their adventures and lives, their
places in the super-heroic pantheon filled by new characters.  The
classics, the Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four and the Waihee-Saito Spider-
Man, were kept in print and even studied in literature courses as
a matter of routine.

Marvel shared its success by providing grants to individual
creators and competitors as well.  Dave Sim, his life prolonged by
Marvel medical research and a sizeable endowment from the House of
Ideas, was able to complete his 301-issue autobiography in 2067.
He died two years later as the first issue of his collected I Am
the Aardvark, Goo Goo Goo Joob
, hit the top spot on the New Earth
Times bestseller list.

By the turn of the century, Marvel was the most powerful economic
force in the solar system.  The quest for better and better comics
had naturally led the company to acquire assets to further that
goal.  They purchased amusement parks, movie studios, manufacturing
plants, Japan, the Pacific Ocean, and Phobos.

It was in 2098 that a Marvel librarian came across an edition of
The Isabella Archives once more.  The company often reviewed the
160 or so years of comic books in its vaults to find characters
suitable for revival or material deserving of new editions.
Modesty must give way to accuracy when I tell you that, within a
year, It the Living Colossus was being called the seminal work of
1970s comic-book literature.

Researchers soon learned I’d been cryonically preserved some 100
years earlier.  Petitions by the hundreds of thousands flooded the
offices of the Committee for Revivification, some 50 million
signatures in all.  The Committee, not wanting to seem easily
swayed by mere public opinion, did not schedule my revival until
2116.  This despite the offer of several thousand lawyers to
voluntarily undergo euthanasia to accelerate the process of curing
my Gaiman’s Disease.

I awoke to a world more wonderful than I could’ve imagined, a world
where I was...

Well, let’s talk about that after the reviews.


Captain Earth: Legacy of Light by Gideon Vasarian and Susanne
Przhevalski [Marvel; 100 solar credits] brought tears to my eyes.
You see, one of the first things I did on my revival was catch up
with my favorite characters from the 1990s.  Few epics from that
period spoke to me more strongly than Mark Gruenwald’s The Infinity

Captain America, exiled to a distant planet by the omnipotent Red
Skull and stalked by the Skull’s own daughter Brita, actually saves
the murderous miss from a life of unreasoning hatred.  They must
cooperate to survive and their cooperation soon becomes something
far stronger.  Cap and Brita pledge undying love to one another.
Their happiness is short-lived as the Skull appears to seek revenge
on his unfaithful offspring.

It was the final battle between Captain America and the Skull.  Cap
uses the Skull’s own power to transport the pregnant Brita into the
future so that, no matter the outcome of this combat, their vow of
live will survive to inspire others.

Cap, alone save for his courage, his convictions, and his own love
for Brita, gives his life to stop his foe’s evil plan to remake all
existence in the Skull’s twisted image.  The universe is redeemed
through the power of love.

Legacy picks up Brita’s story in own 2118. She has been raising
Steve Rogers Jr. to be every bit the inspiration Captain America
was.  Mankind is moving beyond the asteroids in its never-ending
quest for adventure and knowledge.  These new pioneers will face
incredible dangers and hardships.  They need a living symbol to
remind them of their own proud legacy.  Captain Earth is determined
to be that symbol.

Vasarian’s script is as exciting as it is inspirational.  The art
by Przhevalski brings the story to life with amazing clarity for
line art.  Few writers are willing to work with artists in these
days of cerebro-graphics, but this partnership is seamless.  We may
be seeing the return of teamwork in comics.  We’re certainly seeing
the premiere of a series destined for greatness.  Do not miss this

Also recommended: Don McGregor’s Panther’s Party [Marvel; 50 solar
credits].  This is an oldie that you should not overlook.  First
published in 1996, McGregor’s action-comedy marked a turning point
in his T’Challa series. Both Don and the Black Panther let their
hair down for one heck of a royal birthday bash.  Wakanda is wilder
than ever in this classic collection.  True, some of the jokes will
be incomprehensible to today’s readers, but editor Gove Gowan has
included an easy-to-follow glossary of archaic terms.  Trust me,
faithful ones, this is comics history and it belongs in any Marvel


Waking up in 2116 was wonderful and lonely.  I did miss my family,
but I was so proud of what they had accomplished in their lives.
Barb’s plan for international health care was a boon to the entire
world.  Eddie followed in my footsteps as a writer until he became
the last President of the United States in 2023. Kelly Rose was
elected World President in 2031.  Jerome Joseph colonized Mars that
same year.

Madonna bore me a son through artificial insemination, a testimony
to the friendship she shared with my family.  Anthony Madonna was
an accomplished actor-songwriter who gave his life to save a group
of orphans of the Tobacco Wars in the final month of that conflict.
I’m told he had my eyes and smile.

The adulation I received on my revival was difficult to deal with.
I could have had anything on Earth for the asking.  That I did not
succumb to the many exotic temptations available can be attributed
to the strong family values instilled in me by my natural parents,
Louis and Florence, and affirmed by my revival transition parents,
Woody and Barbara.  I’ve never known two more loving couples.

I still had my writing.  The new cerebro-graphics technology let me
“draw” my own stories.  My first efforts were overly Kirby/Romita,
but I eventually built upon their inspiration to develop a style of
my own.  I won the Eisner again that year.

CHET-6000, the robotic heir to the Krause publishing empire, asked
me to resume my CBG column.  It was the link that completed the
circle of my life.  I even beat out “Oh, So?” in the most recent
readers poll.

I’m at the top of my field.  It’s truly a great feeling, but I’m
going to have to deal with the possibility that my century-spanning
success, unlike Marvel’s, won’t last much longer.

You see, next month, they thaw out Todd McFarlane.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. 

© 2011 Tony Isabella