Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SAYING GOODBYE TO COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE

Comics Buyer’s Guide, the world’s longest running magazine about
comics, had an impressive run of 1699 issues in 42 years.  It was,
for a long time, the comics industry’s newspaper of record and, one
way or another, it was part of my life for most of its existence.

The news of CBG’s demise hit me harder than I could have imagined.
I had been expecting this news for years - always wondered if the
next “Tony’s Tips” column would be my last - but I never expected
CBG and yours truly wouldn’t get that last chance to say goodbye to
our readers and the publication.  That the plug was pulled just one
issue short of issue #1700 astonished me.  It would have been nice
to have had a grand send-off.

F&W’s cold and clinical press release was also a factor in how hard
I took the news.  I’ve been told this sort of thing is standard in
“the business world” and I don’t doubt it.  But “standard” doesn’t
mean right and it surely wasn’t right that F&W didn’t acknowledge
CBG’s history and importance to the comics industry.

I was also concerned for CBG editors Brent Frankenhoff and Maggie
Thompson, though, as Maggie was supposed to be retired, more so for
Brent.  However, Brent tells me the company treated him well after
his two decades of service there...and Maggie tells me the people
at Krause Publications have always been the most wonderful folks to
work with.  It seems a little nuts for me to be angry on behalf of
friends who aren’t themselves angry, but whoever said I was a model
of sanity?

My depression last week was not solely CBG-based.  There was some
sad news on my side of the family and a developing situation with
the health of one of my in-laws. The news that DC was victorious in
its battle to deny Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s heirs their
rightful due also hit me hard in a way that can only be understood
by someone who’s also been screwed over by the company. 

Top all of the above with the realization that, for the first time
in my four decades in comics that I can remember, I have no paying
gig on my desk.  If nothing else, I always had my next column for
CBG to write.  If only by a matter of degrees, this is sort of new
territory for me.  Yeah, I had a bad week.

That said, enough with the sadness already.  Let’s look at all the
good things CBG accomplished and how satisfying my association with
the publication has been for me.

CBG boosted the careers of so many talented comics creators in its
42-year run.  It informed comics fans and professionals alike in a
knowledgeable and friendly manner.  Week in and week out...and then
month in and month out...comics readers learned of new comics and
graphic novels and more.  CBG celebrated the past and the present
of the comics art form and industry, both in its pages and with the
information it often provided to comics professionals, comics-shop
owners, journalists, educators, publishers in and outside the field
and many others.  It was not only the industry’s paper of record,
it was also its outreach to the world outside comicdom.  Everyone
who participated in CBG and that outreach can be proud of what CBG
accomplished in its 1699 issues.

There was a long gap between my initial contributions to the then-
titled The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom and the renamed Comics
Buyer’s Guide
.  The first thing I wrote for editors Don and Maggie
Thompson was a spoof called “The Scarlotti Comics Group,” wherein
I invented a Cleveland-based short-lived publisher of the 1950s and
included a price guide to his handful of titles.  It made Don laugh
and that was all it took to make the sale.  I always wanted to do
a series of one-shot “reprints” of those Scarlotti comics, but I’m
pretty sure they would be a hard sell in the current marketplace.
If/when I come across the original manuscript for this parody, I’ll
run it in the bloggy thing and maybe, just maybe, I can sweet-talk
some artists into drawing some covers for it.

At one point, I was writing multiple features for CBG.  Every few
weeks, I would write “I Cover the Newsstand” in which I would take
note of comics stuff in non-comics magazines.  This is back when I
owned and operated a comics shop and newsstand, so I had access to
dozens of magazines every week. 

The intros to “I Cover the Newsstand” were written in hard-boiled
detective style and, though I haven’t reread any of these columns
in decades, I remember enjoying writing them.  They seemed popular
with CBG’s readers and that once paid off for me in an unexpected
way.  Here’s the story...

It was early morning, around 5 am, and I was driving from our home
in Fairlawn to my Cosmic Comics store in downtown Cleveland.  I was
speeding - my bad - and got pulled over by a police officer.  She
asked for my driver’s license.  I handed it to her.  She looked at
it, smiled and asked “Do you cover the newsstand?”

She was a CBG subscriber.  She let me off with a warning.  Writing
for the newspaper did have its perks every now and then.

Under the name “Brad Silver,” I also wrote “Book Talk.”  This was
a filler giving information on upcoming paperbacks and hardcovers
that might be of interest to our readers.  I could write a month’s
worth of “Book Talk” in a couple of hours.  As short as they were,
they beefed up my monthly check nicely.  

Charmed by an ancient comic strip called The Outbursts of Everett
True
by A.D. Condo and J.W. Raper (1905-1927) and which featured a
quick-to-anger grouch, I wrote a comic book-centric version of the
two-panel strip and talked Cleveland artist Gary Dumm, best known
for his work with Harvey Pekar, to draw it.  I figured it would be
a one-shot, but Don and Maggie talked me into writing more of these
“New Outbursts of Everett True.” I ended up doing hundreds of them
for CBG and Movie Collectors World, also edited by the Thompsons.

When I closed Cosmic Comics and went back to writing full-time, I
dropped out of CBG for a time.  But I couldn’t stay away from two
of the best editors in comics for long. 

I started writing “Tony’s Tips,” which originally reviewed comics-
related stuff.  Reviewing actual comic books was Don’s territory,
but, eventually, I started reviewing them as well.  I learned a lot
from Don’s reviews, but never tried to duplicate his style.  He was
the king of the CBG reviews.  I was an enthusiastic cheerleader and
sometimes raucous court jester.

I wrote almost 800 “Tony’s Tips” columns for CBG.  Sometimes I went
far afield of comic books per se and wrote about real-world stuff
that was important to me.  When the local branch of the Christian
Coalition, who I called the “Vicious Coalition,” tried to mess with
our award-winning library, I joined the battle.  I wrote somewhere
between six and a dozen columns detailing the fight for freedom in
my hometown. 

CBG readers loved them.  Librarians all around the country started
sending me fan mail.  The VC threatened to sue me and, anonymously,
made threats of a more physical nature. 

The Medina Library would win an American Library Association award
as the best library of its size.  A levy for the library, which was
bitterly opposed by the VC, passed by a landslide.  Ultimately, the
defeat broke the back of the local Christian Coalition.  They have
never been a force in the community since.

I cherish many things about my “Tony’s Tips” columns, but I’m going
to limit myself to the big six...

I was able to entertain and inform tens of thousands of readers in
those columns.  It would be impossible to tabulate how many readers
have told me how a recommendation from me led them to comics and
books that are now among their all-time favorites.  Just as when I
owned a comic-book shop, I love bringing together comics fans and
great comics.

I was able to draw attention to some incredibly talented creators
early in their careers.  When I got into comics, many of those who
came before me were generous with their knowledge and time.  That
meant a lot to me and it meant - and still means - a lot to be able
to pay it forward.

I was able to promote quality works that might otherwise have been
overlooked in the comics marketplace.  I was far from the only CBG
contributor doing this, but I cherish the notes of thanks I often
got from creators, editors and publishers.

CBG gave me a “comics home” for decades.  Writing for the magazine
kept me visible and working through times when it was virtually my
only connection to the industry.  This didn’t please everyone, but,
fortunately, most of our readers and industry peers were happy to
invite me into their “homes” every week/month.

Without my CBG connection, it’s unlikely I would have written 1000
Comic Books You Must Read
.  I’m very proud of that fun little romp
through the history of the American comic book and grateful for the
over-and-above guidance and support I got from Maggie Thompson and
Brent Frankenhoff in bringing it to press.

Finally, and this is the biggest of the big six, I am so lucky to
have made so many great friends through my writing for CBG.  Some
have grown up and grown old with me...and I cherish each and every
one of them.

So...what next?

“Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing” will continue to appear on its nigh-
daily basis.  I did consider changing the name to “Tony’s Tips” for
about half an hour, but decided against it.  The bloggy thing has
its own identity and, despite the frequent nostalgic looks at the
past, I’m looking forward, ever forward.

I do plan to write more reviews for this bloggy thing of mine...and
give priority to review items sent to me by creators, editors and
publishers.  As always, those creators, editors and publishers are
more than welcome to use my reviews of their comics and other items
to promote them.

Review items can be sent to me at: Tony Isabella, 840 Damon Drive,
Medina OH 44256.  If you need to get in touch with me for whatever
reason, you can e-mail me and I’ll respond to your message as soon
as possible. 

I’m going to miss CBG.  It was a blessing to comicdom and to me as
well...and it will always be a part of me.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.”

© 2013 Tony Isabella

12 comments:

  1. Very sad news. I used to love reading the CBG when I was a teenager. It introduced me to many creators and other comics fans. It opened the history of comics,science fiction, and films to me.

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  2. My first subscription to CBG started at the age of 11. I saw an ad for the (then) newspaper in many of the several comics that I read on a monthly basis. After some begging of my parents, they agreed to buy a subscription for me.

    I literally, at times, looked more forward to reading CBG than the comics it covered.

    I frequently visited the website over the years. I do wish that they had found a way to make the publication viable on line. I would have subscribed to that.

    On a happier note, CBG long outlived the 'louder' WIZARD magazine!

    CBG, I am gonna miss ya!

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  3. I started subscribing to TBG in '77. Back in those days I had a short lived dream of writing and drawing comics, and TBG printed a short review of the very first story I ever had published. I lost that copy over the years and many moves, but I subscribed to TBG and CBG on and off for the next 30 years or so, long after I stopped reading comics. Even though I hadn't read CBG in years, the news of its demise was something like hearing that a long lost favorite Uncle that you'd lost track of had just died. Even though I stopped reading it, I'll miss knowing that it's not there any more.

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  4. I too had to beg my parents to get a subscription in 1977.After a bunch of extra chores my Dad wrote the check and boy oh boy did I get happy when a new issue arrived,it really was like discovering a whole new world.I ordered the Bud Plant catalog and LOVED the sexy girl on the cover,I was a bit nervous my Mom would think it was too risque!

    I too have many good memories of growing up w/ CBG ( meeting so many folks during the years I was publishing mini comic books being one of my best ones )and I'll never forget the shock of getting the news that Don Thompson had passed.I remember how that day smelled and that I cried.It was like losing a great,wise Uncle.I know that Don shaped me as much as The Beatles and that much of whatever is good in me is thanx at least in part to Don and Maggie Thompson.

    End of an era,to say the least.

    I'll have my buddy,Joe Fields ( Flying Colors Comics ) save me a copy of the final issue.

    Thank you ALL.

    - Alfred Huete

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  5. I've written before how I was introduced to the old TBG, by a girl I was dating at the time. From those early issues from Alan Light through the past years under Krause, CBG was my major (and sometimes only) connection to comics and comics fandom. An ad in one issue got me to join my first APA and another got me involved in a trade with a British fan of THE PHANTOM which introduced me to 2000A.D. & Judge Dredd.

    Over the decades other, sometimes flashier, magazines came along to compete with CBG, but almost none of them survived. The Comics Journal, as far as I know, is the only one to continue as a print publication to this day.

    I'm certainly going to miss opening my mailbox and finding that next issue of CBG waiting for me.

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  6. I was introduced to CBG when my brother got his first subscription in the 80's. I eventually got one of my own, and when CBG shifted from a newspaper format, which was the best ever, to a slick magazine for no other reason than to compete with----and eventually vanquish---Wizard, I was actually able to find it at the local newsstand. One last subscription a few years back, before I retired from collecting pro tempore.

    It's just sad to read that CBG is gone. F & W had also done away with another mag I was buying, Tuff Stuff, for sports cards fans, a few years back. One wonders if the business decisions are being made too soon......

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  7. It would have been nice if they had done a true final issue. They might even have been able to make money on it if they marketed it right.

    They should have been able to do more with the online side. It would have been able to keep their brand current. Once the forums were shut down, I think the interest began to lag.

    The Superman story is also depressing. But that just seems to continue the way things are going.

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  8. I also subscribed for many years, starting in the late '80s and continuing through the mid-'90s. I drifted away when the publication went monthly and as the role that CBG played in informing me of new comics was taken over by the Internet. Like others here, I loved when that gigantic pile of newsprint showed up in my mailbox, and I would pore over the contents again and again until the following week, when I could start fresh with a new edition. Happy memories.

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  9. I will miss the Comic Buyers Guide. I was wondering if there will be a Tony's Tips book or Best of Tony's Tips. I bought CBG for your column and always went to the CBG web site to comment on news items. It's too bad they couldn't continue publication on the web only. Many magazines are going this route and I was hoping there would be a last minute appeal. Are there any comic or web publications that discuss the Silver age and all the other ages like CBG did?

    I am going to miss CBG a lot. It's like a part of my life is gone because I commented a lot on your site. Not only that but I always came to read the reviews and see covers of old comic issues. It will be missed .................

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  10. Xanadude28@yahoo.comJanuary 17, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    Now I am so curious as to see The Scarlotti Comics Group. Maybe, with artwork additions, it could run in Alter Ego, like The Faux History of All American Comics did.

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  11. I am fairly sure the company heads were not conscious of the issue number at all. Most of the magazines in the company weren't known by issue numbers, but cover dates. CBG was an exception in Iola, but I don't know what they would have known in the head office. In any event, ending when they did was almost certainly intended to close things out at the end of a budget year.

    I've written at length on my Comichron site about the magazine, but I wanted to thank you here, Tony, for the time and energy you put in. I know it made a difference to all of us.

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  12. I was a regular subscriber to the Comics Buyer's Guide since the middle of the 1980's, and yes I read your column regularly along with Peter David's, and the letters pages. Over the years I watched the Buyer's Guide go from weekly newspaper to monthly magazine and participated regularly by writing letters to the Oh, So? letters column. I lost count over how many letters I wrote that got published, but they became quite numerous as the years progressed.

    When the Forums debuted online I signed up and became a regular contributor under the name "Phatok". Many people read my amateur movie reviews and one post I wrote about comics and Rock N Roll songs got such a big response that even I was surprised at how many people read it and responded to it.

    Your comments echo my feelings in many ways, although I'm looking at it from the perspective of a long time subscriber and reader instead of a long time contributor such as yourself. When the Forums shut down I had a strong suspicion that the end of the magazine wasn't far behind, so while I'm saddened by CBG's demise, I'm not totally shocked.

    In fact, I foresee a future not that far off from now when the comic book industry ceases to exist, along with the magazine industry. Paper magazines and comics days are sadly numbered, although comics will still be published, just not in paper form. This is already happening as digital comics are gaining in popularity, and it's only a matter of time before the paper collectibles that we all once cherished become nothing more than a fond memory, and comic book conventions become the stuff of legends of days gone by. It's inevitable as time marches on, and the digital revolution continues.

    We already have an entire generation of children who only read and communicate via the digital medium and something which we once took for granted such as writing with a pen on paper is totally foreign to them. Just look at all the people these days that are addicted to their smart phones, and well you get the idea of what I'm talking about. I can't tell you how many people I meet each day at my job (in the retail filed) who can't even write their own name because they don't know how because they've become totally dependent on their smart phones, tablet computer or PC's. This trend is both exciting and scary at the same time.

    Well, now that I've found your blog, I'll check it out regularly and I wish you well in whatever future endeavors you pursue.

    Dave Harszlak
    (A Former Comics Buyer's Guide Subscriber and Tony's Tips reader)

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