Monday, January 14, 2013

TONY’S TIPS!

Originally written for Comics Buyer's Guide #1700: 

“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
- Douglas Adams

CBG reaches an impressive milestone this month with the publication
of its 1700th issue.  My own association with this sturdy journal
goes back almost as far.  Someone with a better memory that mine
would be able to tell you exactly how far back, but I have to work
with whatever brain cells I have left.

I do recall I was excited when Alan Light sent me the first issue
of what was then called The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom. Since
becoming Clark Kent was my fall-back plan if I couldn’t work in the
comics industry, I was thrilled by TBG’s newspaper-like format and
its frequently publication.  I immediately volunteered my services
as a columnist.

I was writing for a lot of zines in those days.  A copy assistant
at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I was only wrote the occasional bit
for the paper and only put my name on one of those.  It was a full-
page article on the Green Lantern/Green Arrow “drug issues” and it
worked out pretty good.  However, when I submitted a like article
on the groundbreaking debut of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, my editors
couldn’t understand why they should run a second comic-book piece
so soon - about a year - after the first one. 

But I digress.

For TBG, I wrote three installments of something called “The Odd
Collectors.” The title came from The Odd Couple, my favorite Neil
Simon play and movie.  The column was a mix of news, views, reviews
and assorted silliness, not unlike the “Tony’s Tips” columns I’ve
been writing here for more years than I can remember.  No, really,
I can’t remember how many years. I hope this issue of CBG has some
sort of timeline because I’d like to know.

My current editors sometimes credit me as “CBG’s First Columnist”
and I believe them because they never lie to me.  It’s one of the
many reasons I love them dearly.  But, as I don’t have any copies
of those early TBGs, including the ones with my work in them, I’m
unable to confirm it for myself.  If anyone out there as the issues
and would be willing to photocopy those three early columns, I’d be
most appreciative.  We’re talking an autographed copy of my 1000
Comic Books You Must Read
at the minimum.

But I digress.  Again.

My friend and fellow fan Dwight Decker wrote some stuff for the
first column.  I can’t recall if we were planning to collaborate on
a regular basis or if the concept was that I would collaborate with
a different fandom friend every issue.  I can’t remember if there
were any collaborators on the other two installments of that short-
lived feature. Once those brain cells go...

I do remember why I had to stop writing the column.  I landed a job
at Marvel Comics, assisting Stan Lee and Sol Brodsky with the new
weeklies the company was producing for the British market.  I quite
correctly realized that a new job in a new city wouldn’t leave me
much time for fanzine writing.

I also recall recommending replacements to Alan.  I suggested that
he contact Don and Maggie Thompson, who were among the founders of
modern-day comics fandom.  I wonder how that worked out.

CBG is the world’s longest running magazine about comics.  I have
many good memories from my association with the publication.  The
best and frequently recurring one is whenever someone thanks me for
recommending something in this column and the subsequent enjoyment
they derive from that something.  You’re welcome.

******************************

Deservedly showing up on “best of the year” lists is Ellen Forney’s
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me [Gotham Books; $20].
Her “graphic memoir” tells of her struggle with bipolar disorder.
Forney is a sympathetic character in this work - and aren’t we all
the heroes of our own stories - but doesn’t shy away from her dark
sides.  What sticks with me is her humor on her situation and her
thoughtful approach to her treatment.  As someone who has suffered
from depression, I’m a big fan of taking control of one’s own
treatment.  Not everything works for everyone.  Prescription drugs
were an epic fail for me, but Forney had greater success with them.

Marbles is a page-turner, though the pages turned a little slower
when the occasionally detail-obsessed Forney covers some aspects of
her treatment or her study of artists and writers who suffered like
disorders.  The mildly schizophrenic feel of those segments works
well with the over-all chronicle.  This is a tale told with great
and laudable honesty.  It delivers a satisfying and even uplifting
experience.  Yeah, it definitely deserves to be on any list of the
best books of the year. 

ISBN 978-1-592-40732-3

******************************

Thom Zahler, creator/writer/artist/everything of Love and Capes, is
one of my best friends.  That full disclosure is necessary because
of what I’m about to say next, something I would still say even if
I hated Pretty Boy Zahler’s guts.

Love and Capes is the best super-hero comic being published today.
Not just the best humorous super-hero comic being published today,
though it is dependably hilarious, but the best super-hero comic.
Period. No quibbles. The best.

My reading habits are sometimes stupid. Which is why I hadn’t read
all of Love and Capes: Ever After [IDW; five issues, 2011] or any
of Love and Capes: What to Expect [IDW; six issues, 2012].  I put
the two runs together while sorting comic books and stopped sorting
comic books until I read them all. OK, technically, I still have an
issue of the later series to go but that’s only because I have not
received my copy of same.  I think the odds of Zahler blowing it in
that issue are greater than my odds of my unseating LeBron James as
basketball’s most valuable player. 

Bookstore owner Abby and accountant Mark, who is secretly Earth’s
greatest super-hero, got married and Ever After shows up their life
post-honeymoon.  Though the super-hero stuff usually takes a back
seat to the real life stuff, Zahler uses that to examine areas of
super-hero lives that DC and Marvel super-hero comic books rarely
make time for.  So, besides learning of the special requirements a
super-hero has when he goes apartment hunting, we also see a fellow
hero sometimes awkwardly pursue a romantic relationship with Mark’s
ex-girlfriend, also a super-hero, and we see what happens when the
in-laws are brought in on Mark’s secret.  This is rich material and
I’m almost glad DC and Marvel don’t explore it.  They would likely
do it badly and then kill somebody.

Not that death is absent from Love and Capes.  The fifth issue of
Ever After has the aftermath of the death of one of Mark’s friends
and allies.  Dipping a foot into darker-than-normal humor, Zahler
tells of the special steps the heroes must take to make sure their
friend is actually dead.  But the humor works, much like that you
find at a really good wake.  The result was one of the best super-
hero stories of recent times and a story that was inspirational and
uplifting in spite of the tragedy.

Ever After ends with Abby telling Mark she’s pregnant.  Which sets
up What to Expect.  The joy and terror of impending parenthood is
wonderfully portrayed, but never overwhelms the series because our
man Thom is smart enough to also give plenty of stage time to the
other members of his cast. 

Both of these series are or will be available in trade paperback,
as are the earlier Love and Capes series.  If you haven’t read them
yet and if you’ve ever in your life enjoyed something I’ve reviewed
in these pages, drop this issue of CBG - right now - and order the
entire Love and Capes collection. You will love them and you will
want to share them with your friends. 

Love and Capes Vol. 1:

ISBN 978-1600102752

Love and Capes Volume 2:

ISBN 978-1600106804

Love and Capes Volume 3: Wake Up Where You Are:

ISBN 978-1613770498

Love and Capes Volume 4: What To Expect:

ISBN 978-1613775868

******************************

Of all the wonderful volumes published by TwoMorrows, I don’t think
I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I looked forward to Matt
Baker: The Art of Glamour
[$39.95], edited by Jim Amash and Eric
Nolen-Weathington.  Baker was one of the earliest African-American
comics artist and the details of his history and work have been too
slow in coming. This book makes up for that.

Amash and Nolen-Weathington include several complete Baker stories
in this volume, bookending thoughtful essays about the artist and
revealing interviews with his family, friends and fellow creators.
There’s also a complete checklist of his work, though I suspect the
future will include new Baker discoveries.

Baker died too young.  He died of a heart attack - his weak heart
was a lifelong concern - in August 1959 at the age of 38.  As with
the legendary Joe Maneely, one must wonder if Baker would have made
the transition to the super-hero-dominated comics marketplace that
would soon follow.  I’d like to think he would have held his own.
If he drew super-heroes as well as he drew everything else, I would
have wanted him to draw my 1970s Black Lightning comics. 

There has been an explosion of comics history books over the past
decade.  It’s a competitive field, but I think Matt Baker: The Art
of Glamour
falls into the must-have category.  Kudos to the editors
and all who contributed to this book.

ISBN 978-1-60549-032-8

******************************

Francisco Marciuliano is the writer of the Sally Forth comic strip,
which runs in 700 newspapers, and the webcomic Medium Large, which
often pokes fun at comics.  He is also responsible for I Could Pee
on This and Other Poems by Cats
[Chronicle; $12.95].  The literally
pocket-size hardcover was my favorite stocking stuffer to give to
people, which besides the title poem includes such insightful works
as “I Lick Your Nose,” ‘This Is My Chair,” “Kubla Kat” and “Nudge”:

Nudge
Nudge nudge nudge
Nudge nudge nudge nudge nudge nudge
Nudge
Your glass just shattered on the floor


I love this book with its cute cat photos and its sometimes scary
insights into our feline friends. When my family and friends least
expect it, I perform readings from the book.  This may well be the
greatest collection of poetry of the new millennium...according to
my own cat master Simba.  She says buy this book and, while you’re
out, pick up some of those catnip fish she likes.

ISBN 978-1-4521-1058-5

******************************

Speaking of cats...

Risa Motoyama’s Start with a Happy Ending [Digital Manga; $12.95]
is a heart-warming collection of done-in-one stories about recently
deceased humans who are given seven additional days of life to take
care of their unfinished business.  Because they had been kind to
cats in their lives, a benign cat-god has granted them this gift.
The one catch is that they will live those seven days in the body
of a cat. 

The concept is far less limiting than I imagined.  Each of the 15
stories in this volume is significantly different from the others.
Each of the humans is an individual with joys and sorrows of their
own.  The main commonality is that they do learn something in these
precious seven days and that every story has a satisfying and even
uplifting ending.  For stories that necessarily start with tragedy,
that’s pretty amazing.

I’d recommend reading a story a day.  That way you can stretch out
your enjoyment of this clever manga and savor each of these tales.

ISBN 978-1569702871

I’ll be back tomorrow with a few closing thoughts on Comics Buyer’s
Guide
and the end of an era its departure represents.

© 2013 Tony Isabella

3 comments:

  1. Keeping to the cat theme, I want to highly recommend "How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting To Kill You" by by Matthew Inman. Inman is also the writer/artist of "5 Very Good Reasons To Punch a Dolphin In The Mouth", so you get the idea of where his sense of humor goes.

    Besides the murder plot we also are reminded that cats are eventually going to rule over us all. There is also a great section with The Bobcats, two felines that work in an office.

    I got the book as a Christmas gift from a friend and is probably the best thing I received, besides my new iPad.

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  2. Thanks for all of the great tips! I've just submitted Interlibrary Loan requests for Love and capes, I could pee on this : and other poems by cats, Start With a Happy Ending, and also A bride's story (from a previous post of yours). Much happy reading coming my way, after I finish reading Charley's war : Death from above, by Pat Mills. I hope to continue following your reviews for many years to come.

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