Saturday, July 21, 2018

BLACK LIGHTNING: COLD DEAD HANDS

This is an ALL HANDS ON DECK request for your assistance in keeping intact the core values and integrity of Black Lightning in the current DC Comics comic books. I need your help on this.

The trade paperback collection of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, the six-issue series that updated my greatest creation for 2018 and beyond, will be published in mid-October. This volume reprints all six issues done by me and artist Clayton Henry and includes a new afterword written by me. It is a story of which I’m immensely proud and which is arguably my best Black Lightning writing ever. Besides updating Jefferson Pierce, the series also dealt with some serious real-world issues in the context of a super-hero universe. It was praised by most of the critics and readers and, naturally, vilified by the usual right-wing commentators.

The Previews ad you see at the top of today’s blog seems to be the extent of DC’s promotion of this book. Half a page in the middle of their monthly solicitation. No mention in their DC Nation magazine. Just this.

The Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands mini-series did not sell what I’d hoped it would sell. I can’t fault DC’s publicity department; they did a tremendous job setting up interviews and sending out all sorts of press releases. However, there could and should have been more support from upper editorial management.

At a time when it has become fairly common for most DC titles to have variant covers every issue, Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands had one. Just one. Given the chance, I could have provided DC with an all-star line-up of artists for additional variant covers.

When Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1 sold out - and it did so quickly - DC did not publish a second printing. That hurt the sales down the line. The last word I had on this was that the first four issues of the series have sold out.

Even before Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands had finished its six-issue run, a run which firmly established Black Lightning as a headliner and not a sidekick, DC commissioned a Detective Comics series that turned my creation back into a Batman sidekick. On my watch, you’d never see Black Lightning subservient to any other DC super-hero. That’s not Jefferson Pierce.

Rumors abound that Black Lightning will be part of a new Outsiders title and, once again, be reduced to Batman’s sidekick. Even more offensive is the rumor that Batman won’t be leading the team. That Nightwing will be leading the team. In short, Black Lightning would be the former Boy Wonder’s sidekick.

If you want to see more Black Lightning comic books written by me, if you want to see Black Lightning treated as the headliner and the iconic hero he is, you need to send DC Comics a message they can’t easily brush aside. You need to order lots of copies of the Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands trade paperback.

Don’t wait for the book to come out. Pre-order it from your local comics shop or subscription service. Pre-order it from Amazon and other online sellers.

Pre-order copies to give out as gifts to comics-reading friends and family members. Pre-order copies to donate to your local libraries and schools.

I have been saying for decades that nothing would make me happier than to be writing and publishing Black Lightning stories until the day they pry my keyboard from my cold dead hands. I truly believe my vision of Black Lightning is far superior to any nostalgia-laden attempt to take the character backwards.

I am very grateful to Geoff Johns for reaching out to me and making these past couple years so wondrous. I am grateful to editors Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards for their tireless efforts to make my story better. They never tried to make it their story. Everything they did, all the notes they gave me, was to make my story better.

I am grateful to primary artist Clayton Henry, helping us make the deadlines artist Yves Guichet and colorist Peter Pantazis for the dedication they showed in every page they did. I’ve never had such an excellent creative team as these guys and my editors. They have set the bar very high for my future works.

I am grateful to DC’s publicity department for all their hard work promoting Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands. That gratitude extends to everyone who is part of the Black Lightning TV series. That TV series maintains the core values of my creation and tells stories that are important in today’s world. Their work inspires me to do better in my work. Always forward.

I am grateful to Dan DiDio and Jim Lee for not flinching as I wrote some very difficult scenes in Cold Dead Hands. Scenes that held up a mirror to terrible situations in our own world. That took guts, the same kind of guts I’d like to see in the form of their giving a green light to more Black Lightning comic books by me. Because I will never give Black Lightning less than my all. My creation will always be my top creative priority.

As always, I am grateful to the fans who have supported my efforts for closing in on five decades now. I’ll always do my best for you as well.

There’s lots going on with Black Lightning. Once I get some other things off my crowded desk, I hope to post “Black Lightning Beat” on a weekly basis. But, for now, I ask you to pre-order copies of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and to let DC know that you want more Black Lightning stories by his creator.

Thank you.  
 
© 2018 Tony Isabella

Thursday, July 19, 2018

FOR THE RECORD

Legal considerations will always keep me from agreeing to requests like this one:

"I am a young writer and artist and have been in process of writing a series of graphic novels over the past few years. I have been struggling with the visual presentation of it, though I have gotten better, and finding an audience for my work that will enable me to focus on writing graphic novels as a career. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and share my work to date. I am sure that any advice you give me will help me along my way."

I wished the young creator well, but that's all I can do.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

WHAT'S UP WITH TONY?

Just some quick updates.

There will be no Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sale this Friday and Saturday. I took a look at all the things I have to do before the end of the month...and some upcoming opportunities to spend time with my family...and decided to give myself a break.

I was interviewed last night on the nonsense from that sleazy website. I think the interview turned out well and will share the link when it posts.

I found the special Comic-Con issue of TV Guide with Black Lightning on the cover at our local Giant Eagle. I bought three copies, which is all I need. 

However, I'll still take all the Black Lightning bags and pins and Lego figures people want to send me. Let me know what you want for them and we'll make it happen.

Here's wishing safe travels and many happy moments for everyone attending Comic-Con this week. I wish I could be with you. Maybe next year.

I'll be back soon with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Dateline: New York City. Friday, June 22.

Between attending the special Marvel family screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage’s second season and our subway ride to Queens for the evening’s New York Mets baseball game, my son Ed and I went to the Regal Cinema “E-Walk Stadium 13 and RPX” on West 42nd Street. There weren’t movie theaters like this when I lived in the neighborhood in the 1970s. I enjoy going to them when I visit the city. Their high ticket prices aside, both this theater and the AMC 25 across the street provide a most enjoyable viewing experience. I recommend them.

There were several movies we wanted to see that afternoon, but the only one that fit our schedule was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). That was at the bottom of our list because Ed hadn’t liked 2015's Jurassic World as much as I had. His taste in movies is more refined than my own. I go easier on movies and TV shows than I do comic books because I know how to make great comic books. With the possibility of my making movies in the near future, that might well change. But I hope it doesn’t. I like a little cheese with my cinema.

Fallen Kingdom is kind of sort of two movies in one. Directed by J.A. Bayona and written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, the “first” is a survival tale. Owen Grady [played by Chris Pratt] and Claire Dearing [Bryce Dallas Howard] are on a mission to save the dinosaurs from the about-to-explode-in-volcanic-armaggeddon island home of the former Jurassic World. Also on the island are hunters with a very different agenda in mind.

The “second” movie is all about ruthless businessmen trying to make big bucks selling the dinosaurs and their DNA to equally ruthless politicians while scientists salivate over continuous opportunities to play God. Oh, the folly of man!

Ian Malcolm [Jeff Goldblum] returns to the franchise in two scenes that bookend the movie. Dr. Wu, he of no moral boundaries, is also back to cook up new dinosaur stew. Between Wu and Hugo Strange on Gotham, B.D. Wong is getting typecast as mad scientists. Though he does play them very well. The velociraptor Blue also returns for a reunion with Alpha Male Owen.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD


The rampaging dinosaurs are familiar but fun. The exploding island bits are properly pyrotechnic with some chills. Even with all that, the “first” movie just isn’t very good.

Honestly, the “second” movie isn’t very good either. The auction of the dinosaurs goes exactly where you would expect it to go. There are the usual gory deaths. Even the special effects are all things we’ve seen before. However, there is one element in the second part of the movie that intrigued me mightily. I only barely saw it coming.

Plunky young heroine Maisie [Isabella Sermon] is introduced to us as the granddaughter of Sir Benjamin Lockwood [James Cromwell], the unbelievable rich former partner of John Hammond, the visionary who first conceived of Jurassic Park. Hammond and Lockwood had a major falling-out before the original Jurassic Park movie. We don’t learn the reason for this until one of the bad guys reveals Maisie isn’t really Lockwood’s granddaughter. She’s a clone of Lockwood’s dead daughter. Even Hammond thought cloning people took their research too far. This revelation is one of the two elements that, while it doesn’t come close to saving Fallen Kingdom, makes me eager for the next chapter in the series.

The other element? The dinosaurs are loose in our world. Those of the auction animals who weren’t already removed from the sprawling estate where they were sold have escaped to take their frightening place in our world. Those that were removed can be studied by their new owners, turned into weapons or war and replicated the same way you can mass-produced conventional weapons.And what if scientists like Wu decide to clone and improve on human beings. Man’s place at the top of the food chain can no longer be taken for granted.

While you’re waiting for that next movie, you probably should see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Because you’ll want to be caught up on the continuity and because even bad movies featuring rampaging dinosaurs are still kind of sort of cool.

SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER
SPOILERS OVER


Come back tomorrow for the concluding part of my “Coast to Coast with Marvel Comics” series as Saintly Wife Barb and I travel to Los Angeles for the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. With surprise guest stars and celebrity interactions. See you then. 

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY'S TIPS #266

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Scooby-Doo! Team-Up Volume 5, Gumballs by Erin Nations and the movie Accident Man based on the comics series by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner!

Monday, July 16, 2018

ON TREVOR VON EEDEN AND BLEEDING COOL

San Diego’s Comic-Con International kicks off this week. Thanks to a friend’s betrayal and the machinations of an unethical website, I find myself in the unique-for-me position of being somewhat glad I won’t be there this year. People being people, and the majority of them being good people with good intentions, would want to talk to me about things I’d rather not talk about at this point, or, at least not at the biggest event in comicdom.

There will be a virtual tsunami of comics news coming out of Comic-Con. This statement will doubtless be swept away in that tsunami. But I felt the need to make my preliminary positions known before Comic-Con. It’s not intended to be my final word on these subjects.  Indeed, I have decided to grant an interview to a reputable comics website at its convenience. It will be the only interview I give on these matters.

Saturday afternoon, Bleeding Cool ran an article discussing what they and Trevor von Eeden, the original artist of Black Lightning, falsely claimed was my payment for the first season of the Black Lightning TV show. Von Eeden supplied them with a scan of the check he received. There were serious errors of facts in the piece, not surprising given Bleeding Cool’s nature.

Von Eeden’s posting of the check and Bleeding Cool’s report on what they claim the check represents, both for Von Eeden and myself, is an unconscionable invasion of my privacy. I was literally stunned that Von Eeden did this and did this without consulting me. I have tried to keep him in the Black Lightning loop as much as I was able to do so without violating my agreements with DC Comics. I stuck my neck out on numerous occasions, much to the consternation of my DC associates, in attempts to involve him. In the wake of his actions, I am withdrawing from further communication with Von Eeden and will no longer appear with him at conventions.

As for Bleeding Cool, I was not surprised by its action. Where it once did good work, it has devolved into a morass of ill-sourced gossip and churlish attempts to pit comics creators against each other for its amusement and that of its visitors. “Let’s you and he fight” is BC’s Wimpy-like mantra.

I am loathe to discuss my business dealings with DC Comics in this statement. If there are differences between DC and myself, I have access to discuss them with DC. But I feel I must state the check as shown on Bleeding Cool does not represent what I received for my participation on the TV series. That claim is inaccurate and, quite frankly, simplistic. My relationship with DC is too complicated to be summed up by the amount on a single check. If Bleeding Cool did not engage in cheap-seats, hit-and-run pseudo-journalism, it would have the capacity to understand that.

I will have more to say on the above. In this blog, I will soon address the simplistic convenience of how creator credits are being determined in modern comic books and comics-related efforts. I will discuss the historical listing of credits. I will discuss my own credits situations. I will discuss how there are credits that are historically accurate and those which are the result of comics industry policies. It’s not a discussion I want to have more than once, so understand it will take me considerable effort and time to get it right.

In the meantime, enjoy Comic-Con and the wondrous news that comes out of it. If you get a chance to meet the cast, show runners and writers of the Black Lightning TV show, please give them my love. They have enriched me and my family in so many ways.

If you get to meet Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards, my terrific editors on the award-deserving Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, thank them for everything they did to help me make my story better. I’d jump into the fire with them again any time.

If you meet Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, tell them you want to see more Black Lightning stories by me and that, like me, you never want to see Jefferson Pierce shown as subservient to any other super-hero. My creation is one of the most iconic black characters in comics.. He is a headliner and not a sidekick.

When the interview mentioned above goes online, I will alert you to its availability here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Sunday, July 15, 2018

NEXT GARAGE SALE

My next Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales will be Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21, at Casa Isabella, 840 Damon Drive in Medina, Ohio. The sale hours will by 9 am to 1 pm each day. More details will be announced later this week.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

QUICK UPDATE

The bloggy thing will be back up and running with new content in a day or so. Some medical matters left me too exhausted to manage anything other than my garage sales. I'm doing fine now. No need for concern. I'll live to dance and piss on the graves of my enemies.

I will NOT be at Comic-Con International this year. If you get a moment with the Black Lightning TV folks (show runners, writers, actors), please tell them how much I love them. I mean, they already know how much I love them, but tell them again. The same holds true for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands editors Jim Chadwick and Harvey Richards. Please feel free to let anyone else at DC (or elsewhere) who might be interested in working with me that you'd love to see more Tony Isabella comic books.

For that matter, feel free to report online that I WAS at the convention...that I was the nicest comics creator you've ever met...and that, after meeting me, you couldn't help yourself from fantasizing about me. Because you know that would totally happen if I were at the convention.

Best of everything to my friends and readers. I love you all madly.

Tony

Thursday, July 12, 2018

ANOTHER GARAGE SALES UPDATE

As I write these words, we’re less than 24 hours away from my next Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales. Friday and Saturday, July 13-14, 840 Damon Drive in Medina, Ohio, 9 am to 1 pm each day. I’m getting excited. I even had signs made for my lawn.

No plan survives contact with the enemy, so I’ve made some changes to my original layout for the garage sale. The quarter corner has gone bye-bye for a while.

In its place are thirteen ten-dollar “mystery boxes” filled with wondrous things. Last year, these were priced at five bucks each. This year, they have more good items in them than ever before. Even I’m amazed at the things I put into them this time around. These boxes always  sell fast, sometimes in the first hour of a sale. I’m hoping that the higher price will slow down the frenzy and give more customers at chance at them. If that doesn’t work, I’ll likely limit sales to one or two boxes per buyer.
                                                                                    
                                                         
The sale will have its usual poster table. We have Black Lightning posters (two different styles). We have the double-sided Superman poster I helped created for Cleveland’s International Superman Expo in 1988. We have a few other Superman posters. We have Daredevil and Luke Cage mini-posters.

I’ve added many new comics to the dollar comics boxes. As noted in earlier updates, these aren’t the leftover 1990s comics that folks overbought on. These are recent comic books like Star Wars, Faith, Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Monsters Unleashed, Simpsons and others.

In addition to the dollar comics boxes, I’ll have one or two boxes of older comics. The older comics aren’t a buck each, but they are priced to sell. From what I recall, they include The Brave and the Bold, Superman, Action Comics and more.

We’ll have a half-dozen collectible phones and some other surprises of that nature. We’ll have DC, Marvel and Stan Lee collector boxes at bargain prices.

We’ll have a fifty-cent table feature Britain’s The Beano, the war comics digest Commando, well over fifty Archie comics digests, manga and more. We’ll have hardcovers and trade paperbacks, usually priced at 30% of their cover price.

We’ll have all six issues of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and both of the Black Lightning trades collecting classic stories from the 1970s. As with any Isabella-written items at garage sales, I’ll sign them from of charge. Heck, even if you bring your own copies of comics I’ve written and don’t buy them from me, I’ll still sign them for free.

That’s all for now. I still have a couple short boxes of comics to price before tomorrow’s opening.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

COAST TO COAST WITH MARVEL COMICS (PART ONE)

Marvel Comics, specifically the comic books written and drawn by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck and Dick Ayers were what made me want a career in comic books. In 1972, Roy Thomas, himself one of my inspirations, offered me a job with the company. The rest, as they say, is history.

While writing Power Man (Luke Cage) in the 1970s and in need of an opponent who could challenge Luke’s super-strength, I took Doctor Bill Foster, an old supporting character who had not been seen for a while, and gave him the ability to grow to giant size. Thanks to Luke, Bill and a foxy fighter name of Misty Knight, I would travel to New York City and Los Angeles within the space of seven days. Add that to a growing list of things I never expected to happen in my lifetime.

Marvel has always been pretty good to me. Over the years, while I might have had issues with an individual or two, I was appreciative that Marvel always kept its agreements with me. I never once had to chase Marvel for money it owed me. I was paid for any reprints of my work in a timely fashion. When Marvel sought an agreement that would cover my myriad contributions to the company, it was as easy a legal process as I could have hoped for.

In recent years, Marvel has truly made me feel part of the Marvel family. I’ve written a number of introductions to handsome volumes featuring reprints of my work. In 2016, they brought me to Harlem for the premiere of Luke Cage on Netflix where I got to meet, among others, Simone Messick who plays Misty Knight on that and other series. In 2017, they brought me to the city again, this time for a special screening of The Defenders.

In 2018, Marvel flew me to Brooklyn to be interviewed on camera for a massive project honoring the creators who have contributed to Marvel’s comic books and the various movies, TV shows and cartoons that have come from our work on the comic books. I was treated like an elder member of the family, recounting old stories in front of a fireplace. Except the fireplace was a director and a camera and I talked for close to two hours without taking a break. Marvel has often brought out the best in me.

Recently, Marvel made me feel like a favorite uncle. They brought me to New York for a special screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage’s second season and then, just three days later, sent me to Los Angeles for the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. It was a dizzying several days and I’m going to share them with you. Because you’re my family.
 
June 26 was my son Ed’s 30th birthday, so I invited him to come to New York with me for Marvel’s special screening of Luke Cage Season Two on June 22. We flew in on Thursday, June 21. Once again, I had booked a room at the Econo Lodge Times Square on West 47th Street and Eighth Avenue. Our room was small - though not as small as the single-bed rooms of my previous stays - but I feel comfortable in what ia essentially my old neighborhood from when I lived in NYC and worked for Marvel Comics.

That evening, we had dinner with my goddaughter Kara and her mother Sandie, neither of whom we see often enough. We ate at Ristorante Amarone, which had great food and less-than-perfect service. After bringing us our checks, the waiter didn’t come back. Fortunately, we were able to pay cash and not wait for him.

From there, we took the subway to Kara’s apartment. She lives in a sixth-floor walk-up not far from the Cooper School of Art. I’m not gonna say walking up six flights of stairs wasn’t a bit more than I was prepared for, but it is a nice apartment. For desert, we went to the famous Veniero’s on East 11th. Whatever calories I might’ve burned walking up and down six flights of stairs, I put right back on via a most delicious piece of cake.
                                                                        

When we got back to the Times Square area, Ed and I went to Midtown Comics. This is one of the coolest comics stores of them all. Two stories of comics and other incredible items. I bought a copy of the Black Lightning/Hong Kong Fooey Special, thinking I might read it that evening or on our flight home. As it turned out, I somehow never got around to reading it until earlier this week. As per requests from several of my bloggy readers, I will be writing about it in the next installment of “Black Lightning Beat.”

I’d hoped Midtown would have copies of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1-4, all of which are sold out from DC Comics. They didn't have any of the six issues. The first issue sold out quickly, though, inexplicably, DC never went back to press on it. I suspect that decision hurt sales on the remaining issues of the series. Sigh.

Friday morning. Ed and I took a cab to the ABC building on West 66th for Marvel’s special screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage Season Two. Our hosts - David Bogart, Tom Brevoort and Brian Overton - could not have been more gracious. They had a nice spread of coffee and pastries waiting for us. Introducing the two episodes, Brevoort talked about how we were all part of the Marvel family and, you know, I was feeling it.
                                                                            

I was also feeling pretty warm inside because of the other family there. Don and Marsha McGregor. Marcus McLaurin and his family. The families of Billy Graham, Archie Goodwin and George Tuska. This was a nice thing Marvel was doing for all of us.

We were shown the first two episodes of Luke Cage Season Two. Mike Colter’s played a Luke struggling with his new celebrity and some unresolved anger issues. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple struggles to understand and help the man she loves. Alfie Woodard and Theo Rossi are deliciously evil A.F. in their roles as Mariah Dillard and “Shades” Alverez. However, although I might be a bit biased here, Simone Messick as Misty Knight just dominated the screen in her every scene.

Misty lost an arm in The Defenders. We all know she will be getting a way cool bionic arm before the end of this season of Luke Cage. But I’m so glad the series is taking its time getting to that  moment. Misty dealing with her loss and trying to get back on the job has been riveting.

Kudos must also go to showrunner and writer Cheo Hodari Coker and Lucy Liu, who directed the first episode. With new characters and new situations, Luke Cage Season Two is shaping up to even better than its incredible first season.
                                                                           

After the screening, Ed and I went back to the Econo Lodge. We had a fantastic lunch at the Dim Sum Palace near our hotel. We walked over to 42nd Street and the Regal Cinema theater for a showing of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I’ll be reviewing that very soon, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
                                                                            
                                                                                
                                                                                 

We ended our New York birthday bash by taking the subway to Queens and Citi Park. The New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The stadium has a real baseball stadium feel. Our seats were amazing. While we were disappointed that the Mets lost, we did see a grand-slam homer. After the game, we spent a few moments at the stadium’s wonderful memorial to Jackie Robinson.

We flew back to Cleveland on Saturday morning, arriving back home in Medina a little after noon. It had been a great trip, but I had another adventure to look forward. On Monday, Saintly Wife Barb and I would be flying to Los Angeles to see the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. I’ll tell you about that soon.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
  
© 2018 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

GARAGE SALES UPDATE

My next Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales will be Friday and Saturday, July 13-14, at 840 Damon Drive in Medina, Ohio, from 9 am to 1 pm each day. If you’ve ever attended one of my sales or if you follow their progress online, you know that there will be 1000s of cool items at bargain prices.

I always plan to work on the garage sales at a leisurely pace. As with many things in life, no plan survives contact with the enemy. The “enemy” in this instance is all the other things I have to do in any given week and the relentless march of time. Once again, I find myself two days away from the garage sales with much left to do before I open the garage door on Friday morning.

I know what’s in my sale at this moment. There is a quarter corner with Beanie Babies, a couple boxes of comic books and some classic movies on VHS. However, I’m thinking I may want to take everything on that table, put it into our much-beloved mystery boxes, adding a bunch of really cool stuff to each box.

There are Superman posters, including the rare double-sided poster I helped design for the 1988 International Superman Exposition held in Cleveland. There are two different Black Lightning posters, as well as Daredevil and Luke Cage mini-posters.

There are many boxes of dollar comics. These aren’t those leftover 1990s crap so prevalent at comics conventions and flea markets. No, these are fairly recent comics from DC, Marvel, Image and others. Plus some surprising older comic books. You’ll find Star Wars, the Simpsons, Batman and many others.

I have cool collectible phones. I have DC and Marvel and Stan Lee collector boxes. I have Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands comics and Black Lightning trade paperbacks. I have July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One. I have replica editions of the Green Books, an annual publication that, way back in the day, guided black tourists to where they could stay safely in hundreds of cities.

I have lots of hardcovers and trades, generally at 30% or less of their original prices. I’m hoping to add many more of these to the tables before Friday.

I have a fifty-cent table featuring issues of The Beano (a British comics weekly), Commando (a British war comics digest), a bunch of manga volumes and paperbacks and lots more. Some of these items are also fair game for my mystery boxes...and I have some other great surprises going into those boxes as well.

If at all possible, I hope to have at least one boxes of somewhat more expensive comic books priced to sell. I also hope to have at least one box of magazines, also priced to sell.

It’s hard for me to predict exactly what I’ll be adding to my next garage sale. Right now, I’m working my way through my son Ed’s old room and my office. That’s a bit like digging for gold in a mine. If I spend an hour in either room, I’ll excavate maybe two inches of goodies. And...

...I just remembered I also have some boxes that followed me home from my last visit to the Fortress of Storage. I definitely plan to go through those tomorrow and Thursday.

The closer I get to the garage sales, the more excited I get about  them. Writers are solitary creatures, so it’s fun to spend a little bit of time with other comics fans.

So, here I am, Tuesday night, writing this update. I’ve placed my usual ad in the local newspaper. I’ve posted an announcement about the garage sale on Craig’s List. I’ve been promoting the sales on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere online. Now comes digging in as I try to add as much stuff as possible to the sales.

If you can’t make this weekend’s garage sales, don’t me too upset. I’m also doing them on July 20-21 and July 27-28. I am downsizing big-time with the goal of getting my office closer to renovation by the end of the year. Hoo-hah!

That’s all for now. See you tomorrow.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

TONY'S TIPS #265

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...my reviews of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Tap Dance Killer #1 and Kid Space Patrol!

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

Sunday and Monday turned out to be much busier than I anticipated. The rest of this week is going to be just as hectic, leading up to the weekend's garage sale. I am working on various bloggy things in between everything else that's going on. I'll post them as soon as they are finished.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

STEVE DITKO (1927-2018)

When I learned of Steve Ditko’s passing, I was overwhelmed. We had lost Harlan Ellison just days before and, like Harlan, Ditko was an original. There had never been anyone quite like him in comics and, though some have tried, there’s still never been anyone like him in comics. An original.

My initial reaction to the news of Ditko’s death was to post one of the shortest Facebook posts I’ve ever posted:

Steve Ditko. Sigh.

That brief message represented two things. The overwhelming rush of events in my own life and my increasingly conflicted estimation of the artist and the man. I needed a few days to figure out what to write about Steve Ditko.

Let’s start with the work for which he will, hopefully, be forever known. Spider-Man. Doctor Strange. Horror and mystery stories that, even when the scripts were less than wonderful, were still amazing because of what Ditko brought to them. He was a wildly creative man and put his mark on so many terrific characters, including Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question, the Creeper, Hawk and Dove and so many other heroes, villains, supporting cast members and just plain people caught in the backgrounds of super-heroic and supernatural events. That he also drew Gorgo and Konga like no one else has ever matched just cemented my love of his work.

There was a time when Ditko was my favorite Marvel Comics artist, even over Jack Kirby. Because Ditko’s Spider-Man seemed very close to my own world and his Doctor Strange very close to my nightmares.  Kirby eventually made the top of my list, but, between the two of them, they taught artists (and even writers) almost everything they would ever need to know to draw Marvel comic books. The two of them defined the look of the Marvel Universe.

If I had to pick one memorable Ditko scene from his early days at Marvel, it would be the issue of Spider-Man where Spidey has been trapped under impossibly large machinery. If my memory serves me, Ditko was plotting the series by this time and so deserves credit for conceiving the four-page sequence in which the trapped Spider-Man, against all the laws of reason and science, somehow lifts the machinery trapping him. He does it because it’s the only way he can save his dying Aunt May. That sequence says so much about heroism that it should be in the dictionary next to the word.

When Ditko left Marvel, my friends and I were pretty upset. One of them blew up his Aurora Spider-Man model, though I suspect he did that as much from his love of blowing things up as any grief over Ditko’s departure. I took it better. I quickly warmed up to Johnny Romita’s art on Spider-Man and I followed Ditko wherever he turned up. That included ACG, Charlton, DC, Dell, Tower and Warren.

Charlton’s Mysterious Suspense #1 with a full-length Question story and Blue Beetle #5 with sort of a super-hero tribute to the writings of Ayn Rand thrilled me as a teenager. I was very conservative in my youth, but, as I got older, smarter and more experienced, I grew out of it. Rand, of course, was not really conservative. She was an evil woman whose motivation was basically “I got mine. Screw you.” She was also a hypocrite, quite willing to accept government “hand-outs” when she was in need. Just as devotion to Rand has destroyed the souls of the Republican party, so it diminished Ditko’s work. The difference was that Ditko was so creative and so talented that you could still find enjoyable comics from him up until recently.

His Creeper was a wonderful design, though the stories never quite lived up to the original concept. Hawk and Dove was an interesting idea that would have been served better if it focused more on the middle ground that could be found between opposing viewpoints. But it always seemed the art and the writing were working against each other. Still, if it was Ditko, I read it. Period.

My personal experience with Ditko was sadly limited. During what I still call my mercifully brief time on staff at DC Comics - circa 1976 - Joe Orlando wanted me to script Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man. After looking over the first issue’s art, I turned down that assignment. I didn’t find any creative/emotional hooks for my own sensibilities and I didn’t want to be just the guy who added words to the art. Had the option of co-plotting the series been offered, I might have reconsidered. That wasn’t on the table.

Much later in my career, when I was writing stories for Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup, Ditko drew two of my short stories that didn’t feature Spider-Man. The first was a five-page Ant-Man story that I tried to write in the style of the classic Lee/Ditko five-pagers of the pre-hero Marvel Comics. Unfortunately, that idea wasn’t carried through beyond the art and the writing.

The second was a slightly-longer Captain Universe story in which a toddler got the cosmic power. The toddler was based on my own son Eddie. Ditko nailed the action and the humor of the story. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

I inquired (through a third party) about buying the original art, but Ditko wasn’t remotely interested in selling it to me or anyone else. I got the feeling he was, at the very least, annoyed that I had asked about it. To the best of my knowledge, and for reasons I will never understand, Ditko didn’t want to sell his original art. Maybe he was saving the pages for his heirs. Maybe he had some philosophical reasons. It was his choice and I respected it, albeit with considerable disappointment.

I cannot claim to know Steve Ditko the man except through his work and his writings. I loved Ditko’s humorous asides in the comics he drew. However, the more firmly he embraced Rand’s vile philosophy, the more his work struck me as humorless. His attempts at humor or satire quickly devolved into straw man arguments against absurdist caricatures of human beings.

I stuck with Ditko for years. I bought his self-published comics. I was happy that a comics creator of his advanced years was able to continue doing work he felt passionate about. However, his passion could not overcome his waning skills. His comics were neither well-written or well-drawn. I would frequently roll my eyes as I read positive reviews of them. Were these Ditko fans looking at the same comics I was looking at?

Ditko was a complicated creator. He saw the world in some bizarre black-and-white manner that never made any logical sense to me. I was impressed by his determination to live every aspect of his life on his own terms. Even though, at least to me, that life seemed to be increasingly joyless. A few years back, I stopped buying his new work. Looking at it had become painful.

Ditko raised complicated feelings in me. What you’re reading today is my final of several drafts. I’ve written it without any of the negative comments. I’ve written it with more emphasis on his early work and the work he did in the 1980s and 1990s. In every case, I tried to be appreciative of his greatest works and honest about the work I consider inferior. Maybe Ditko would approve of that. Maybe he wouldn’t. It’s not something I can know, though I’m sure there will be pundits who do believe they know his mind.

Ditko had said he wanted to be remembered more for his most recent work than his earlier work. I sometimes feel that way myself, so I guess I have that in common with him. But, as a fan who felt Ditko helped changed the face of comics with his work in the 1950s/1960s, I hope he’s remembered for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and Gorgo and Konga and Blue Beetle and Captain Atom and all those wonderful horror/sci-fi/supernatural short stories. That’s the best stuff he did. That’s the stuff from which today’s creators can still learn.

Ditko died alone in his apartment. That is a sad truth. I hope he didn’t suffer. I hope that, in the last moments of his life, he was confident of the rightness of his life’s choices. Whatever I might think of those choices and the philosophy that inspired them, Ditko deserved a good end in recognition of all the enjoyment his comics brought to millions of fans. Those who enjoy the comics themselves and those who enjoy the interpretations of his comics in movies and other media.

I celebrate the creativity and passion of Steve Ditko. I mourn his loss. I hope his genius will be remembered forever.

Steve Ditko. An original.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Saturday, July 7, 2018

THE X-MEN THAT NEVER WERE

My Vast Accumulation of Stuff continues to reveal historical finds from my career and even from  before my career. Sometime in the early 1970s, I began corresponding with Marvel’s Roy Thomas and even phoning him on occasion. My ambition was to write for Marvel Comics and, Crom bless him, Roy was willing to read even my most outlandish notions.

This X-Men pitch came about because I was sorely disappointed when X-Men went from new stories to all reprints. I had loved what Roy Thomas was doing in the title and didn’t want to see it end. As a mark of my ignorance of the comics industry, I assumed that all it would take to get new stories back in the title would be a writer pitching said new stories.

Reading over the below for the first time in two or three decades, I don’t recall my process in coming up with this pitch. Nor can I recall why I thought these ideas were so terrific as to overcome The X-Men’s poor sales even when the title was written and drawn by Roy Thomas and Neal Adams. Clearly, I had way more confidence than ability at that time of in my life.

This pitch picks up the X-Men’s adventures after they battled the Hulk in Las Vegas and after Hank McCoy left the team to appear in Amazing Adventures. It’s presented for whatever amusement you might derive from it.

X-MEN

After their battle with THE HULK in Las Vegas, THE X-MEN were forced to go into hiding on PROFESSOR XAVIER’s estate because of a growing fear of mutants on the part of the public. The X-Men have come to believe they should concentrate on surviving until mankind is either ready to accept them or destroys itself. Even Professor X shares this pessimistic viewpoint. He had learned that graduate HANK McCOY has become THE BEAST, wanted by the authorities, and is blaming himself for Hank’s misfortune.

The private world of the X-Men is shattered by the appearance of CAL RANKIN (THE MIMIC), TED ROBERTS and RALPH ROBERTS (THE COBALT MAN). After Cal and Red graduated from college, they entered into partnership with Ralph and his research company. While working on a telepathic communications system, they discovered a weird kind of thought control device. It allows an operator to reinterpret the images his subject received and so “control” the subject’s reaction to them. The trio is fleeing from the agents of THE NEW WORLD, an organization so mysterious that its aims are as unknown as its origins. The New World wants the thought control device. The X-Men refuse to get involved at first, but when the three men prepare to make their own stand on the estate, the X-Men come around.
 
The Professor had sent HAVOK and LORNA DANE to bring THE BANSHEE into the fold. Just as the three mutants arrive, New World agents capture the device and turn them against their fellows. As defeat for the X-Men draws near, a ray blast restores Cal’s mutant power, albeit slightly changed. He can now adopt both the ability and the form of any one person for a limited time. Unless that person is within a mile radius, though, Cal can not duplicate their powers. The Mimic uses this power to impersonate the leader of the band of New World agents and destroys the thought control device. The New World agents pick up their marbles and walk away, seemingly satisfied by this turn of events.

Following the initial encounter with the forces of New World, the X-Men will attempt to gain the respect of mankind and the God-given rights they have been denied. The Banshee returns to London to fight for mutant rights there while Alex and Lorna carry their struggle to Washington D.C. They will be opposed there by THE SPYMASTER in his identity as SENATOR ROBERT PASSEN, who doesn’t want another group of government-approved crime fighters.

Some future story lines would include:

The X-Men attempt to learn if Hank McCoy has indeed turned into a menace, but, when they find out he is not, will respect his wishes to determine his own destiny.

The Mimic is troubled by a personal identity crisis when he starts to feel he is not his own man, merely a caricature of other man and quits the X-Men until...

...Senator Passen sees the connection between th Beast of the X-Men and the new Beast and tries to destroy the credibility of a growing acceptance of mutant rights.

MAGNETO attacks the Earth with a new band of mutant marauders, each possessing some elemental power. They are HELLFIRE (previously seen as SUNFIRE), GIBRALTER, WINDSONG and HYDRON. They launch attacks in five different locations, forcing our merry mutants to divide their forces to face the attacks. This would allow for a possible guest shot by the Beast.
 
THE TOAD, having received a pardon through THE AVENGERS and now performing in a circus, is accused of murdering the circus owner and stealing the payroll. There is an eyewitness account of a man hopping away from the scene of the crime. The X-Men have to prove the Toad is innocent or their cause will be damaged. And who is the real killer? Daredevil’s old foe, THE LEAP FROG.

ROGER VANE (who was last seen in Iron Man #9) is the new leader of the Maggia. He decides to settle that group’s long unsettled debt with the X-Men. After learning WHITNEY FROST was part of the crime syndicate, Vane joined the Maggia and worked his way to the top via treachery and his political/social connections. MADAM MASQUE would likely make an appearance in this story.

The New World organization will appear from time to time to reveal new little clues to their mysterious origin. The full story would wait until we build sufficient suspense.


If I had to guess, I would guess I wrote the above pitch quickly, making it up as I went. I wanted the X-Men to travel all over the world, not unlike the international status that was part of the new X-Men team that would come along a few years later. The X-Men did become globetrotters/universe-trotters) during Chris Claremont’s many years on the title.

I didn’t have an actual origin for The New World organization or I would have included it in this pitch. Like writers such as Len Wein and others, I would throw something into a story and then figure it out later.

Astute Marvel Universe scholars will recognized that I re-purposed Magneto’s elemental allies in The Living Mummy series I wrote back in the day. My love of obscure characters (and my desire to bring them back into the Marvel Universe) is also evident in some of the characters mentioned above.

It’s not likely I will be writing X-Men comic books any time soon. However, you never know when one of my old ideas (or some version of them) will turn up in one of my new stories.

That’s all for today. Come back tomorrow for a few words on comics legend Steve Ditko, followed on Monday by the first part of my “Coast to Coast with Marvel” travel report.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Friday, July 6, 2018

THE YANK...IN LONDON

My planned “Coast to Coast with Marvel Comics” trip report is being pushed back a few days for reasons including a tight deadline on a short comic-book story, a plumbing problem at Casa Isabella, and a pothole-caused fall in a McDonald’s parking lot that left me with a twisted ankle, a bloody knee and various other cuts and bruises. Life throws stuff at you sometimes.

On the plus side, I came across folders containing pitches I made to Marvel Comics in the very early 1970s. These were written before I moved to New York to work for Marvel in 1972. Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing my pitch for the X-Men. Today, you get a pitch inspired by my teen crush on TV’s Emma Peel, peerlessly played by the wonderful Dinah Rigg in The Avengers. Let’s have a go at it...

THE YANK...IN LONDON

This title follows the life of an American journalist in London as he battles the British edition of THE MAGGIA and other evil sorts with a beautiful ex-intelligence agent. TONY RAMOND has written a crushing expose of the British Maggia. MR. SALVADORE, the head man of this outfit, intends to stop publication of this book by killing Tony. However, the expose is a fraud through which the British police hope to draw Salvadore into making the error that will put him behind bars. Pursued by the Maggia and wounded by same, Tony takes refuge in the house of MRS. EMMA BRIGGS, retired intelligence agent and widow of another intelligence agent. Still a relatively young woman, Emma throws her lot in with Tony. Both have reasons to hate the Maggia. Her husband was killed by them and his girl died when a stray bullet from a Maggia bank job hit her. Tony will get his revenge in the first story. Emma’s will come at a much later issue in the series.

This series will alternate between clashes with the Maggia and bizarre espionage stories of the sort that appeared in the Avengers TV show. The relationship between Ramond and Briggs will be strictly platonic...until it isn’t. They each care deeply about the other’s welfare.


When I read the above for the first time in decades, a few things screamed out for further comment.

Even before I started my professional comics career, I was looking for ways to expand the kind of stories being explored in the Marvel comics I loved. Had I actually sold this series to Marvel, I would probably have featured the occasional super-hero or super-villain.

If I were pitching this today, Tony’s girlfriend wouldn’t have been killed by a stray bullet at a bank robbery. Quite frankly, I don’t think of bank robberies as being a mobster thing per se. Given my interest in including contemporary events in my comics stories, I could see his girl being a victim of human trafficking...and might not have had her killed. Tony trying to find and rescue her could offer some interesting story possibilities.

Finally, I am embarrassed to say, this is sort of the male version of a “Mary Sue” story in which a writer puts herself into the role of the female protagonist and acts her fantasies. It didn’t strike me at the time, but, yeah, Tony was my surrogate for the feelings Emma Peel stirred in me.

I’m amazed at how many of these Marvel pitches keep turning up as I rummage through my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. Come back on the morrow and I’ll share the X-Men pitch I wrote and sent to Marvel at the time in the 1960s when their title went from new stories to an all-reprint format.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Thursday, July 5, 2018

TONY'S TIPS #264

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Saintly Wife Barb and I go to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp; Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man Volume Three; a new edition of The Blazing Combat Collection; and Retro Fan, a great new magazine from Michael Eury and TwoMorrows Publishing.

FAQ WITH DSA

This will be a short bloggy thing because I want to clear the decks for my multi-installment series on going coast-to-coast with Marvel Comics a week or so ago. Today is about Frequently Asked Questions with Depressingly Similar Answers.

Two things I should state up front.

One. I am pleased with all the good things that have come my way in the past twelve months. They are more than many of my fellow comics professionals have received and I am very aware of that.

Two. I have been asked each of these questions over a dozen times in the past week. Hopefully enough people will see my answers that I won’t have to keep responding to these questions.

QUESTION: Will you be at Comic-Con International in San Diego? I’d really like to meet you, talk to you, get you to sign a comic book and maybe have your baby. (Okay, maybe I’m only imagining that last one. I’m on the Vicodin today because I tripped over a pothole in Oberlin. I’ll tell you about that at some point.)

ANSWER: No. Comic-Con is an event I can only attend when someone or something covers all my expenses. It’s not a cheap trip. Neither DC Comics nor the Black Lightning TV show is bringing me in. Nor did Comic-Con invited me. Nor did I win the Bill Finger Award because, apparently, all it takes is one good year to disqualify me for that award. Don’t mistake my snark here for anything other than my being disappointed that I won’t be in San Diego this month and that I’ll miss my dear pal Mark Evanier’s 102 different panels. I especially wanted to see the one where Mark tries to remember what day it is and what panel he’s hosting.

QUESTION: Will you have any official role for the second season of Black Lighting or make a cameo appearance in an episode?

ANSWER: I don’t know. As to the former, I’d have liked that. But, as the season has already started filming, I don’t think that will happen.  As for my appearing on Black Lightning, I did offer to be James Remar’s stunt double but there’s some sort of crazy insurance stuff about that.

Make no mistake about this. My love for the TV series and everyone who works on it is as strong as it ever was. Unless you’re me, you can’t imagine how wondrous it is to watch a weekly series based on my creation that respects my work and my core values. If I could, I would hug each and every one of the actors, writers, producers, directors, designers, crafts services people, whatever every day until they got restraining orders. I don’t go as far as practicing writing my name - Tony Williams, Tony Adams, Tony Anne McClain - but I love them all forever.

QUESTION: Are you writing an ongoing Black Lightning series or any other project for DC Comics?

ANSWER: Not at present. I have said countless times that I would be happy to write new Black Lightning stories until the day they pry my keyboard from my cold dead hands. I worked very hard to revamp my creation for 2018. It received critical acclaim and might well have sold much better if DC had gone back to press when the first issue sold out so quickly and if they had given us variant covers every issue, as the company does with Detective Comics and many other titles.. I’m exceedingly proud of the work I did there and of the work done by artist Clayton Henry, colorist Pete Pantazis, and editors Harvey Richards and Jim Chadwick.

That said, I have pitched an ongoing Black Lightning title and also pitched a non-BL, out-of-continuity graphic novel that will knock your socks off if I get to do it. I’m talking something which would make DC a lot of money and quite possibly be adapted for an R-rated animated feature. DC has not given me the go-ahead on either a BL ongoing series or the graphic novel.

QUESTION: What do you think of the current Black Lightning story in Detective Comics?

ANSWER: I have no comment save for this. Black Lightning is clearly a headliner. To make him yet another Batman sidekick does a great disservice to my creation. Obviously, any story that does that will be a story I have problems with.

QUESTION: Will you be writing comic books for other publishers in the future?

ANSWER: I’ve agreed to write a short comics story for a publisher at an absurdly low rate because I like the franchise. I have sent off three pitches to a much larger publisher. As I am not exclusive to any client or publisher, I’d certainly be open to working with other clients and publishers. Especially those clever enough to see that “From the creator of Black Lightning” will be a selling point for whatever I might do for them.

Comic books are my first love. When I’m not writing them, there are lots of other things I do. I’m writing a non-fiction prose book on  Black Lightning, his creation and diversity in comics. I’ve agreed to write several other books for the publisher of that book. I work on them in between my comics writing gigs.

There’s a decent chance I’ll be writing a horror movie for which I would also be a producer. I may also be involved in an exhibition of Ohio comics artists. I have a more expansive skill set than most of my clients and readers realize.

QUESTION: Are you coming to (fill in name of convention)?

ANSWER: If I haven’t already announced a convention appearance, I probably won’t be there. To get me at a convention, the organizers of the convention have to do these things:

Invite me.

Invite me well before the convention. If you wanted me at an event in July, that ship has already sailed. If you want me at an event in August, that ship is about to sail.

Agree to my requirements package. At the very least, the package is going to include travel, hotel and per diem expenses. It will also include guidelines to my billing and promotion. It will most likely include an appearance fee.

I’m a great date, but I’m not a cheap date. If a convention can’t meet my requirements, I won’t take it personally.

If you want me at a convention or other event that you’re putting on, e-mail me sooner rather than later. I’ll e-mail you the afore-mentioned requirements package.

From this point on, I will ignore any invitations or interview requests or other requests that are not e-mailed to me. E-mail is my preferred communication method for these things. Facebook and Twitter are woefully inadequate for my handling these requests in a timely fashion.

I would very much prefer to not have to answer the above questions again and again. I’m a dreamer. I know that.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

TELL IT TO TONY

I suppose I should acknowledge Independence Day, but, to be honest, I’m not feeling it. What I’m feeling is that my country is about to fight a new war for independence against a traitorous president and his ignorant and/or soulless supporters. The Dumpster and his goons have already done so much damage to the nation that I fear I will not live to see the end of this new war. It will take generations to set the United States back on a proper course. Which is all I’ll have to say about this today.

Onward...

I’m back after taking two weeks off to make my life a little less chaotic. If all goes according to plan - I hope I haven’t jinxed myself by using that phrase - I will be posting a new bloggy thing every day this month.

Today we have an e-mail from Dan Tandarich

I was happy to open up the Ant-Man/Giant-Man Marvel Masterworks and see your introduction.  The behind the scenes tales and background info are among the best parts of the Masterworks collections. Other than the stories, of course. I have always liked Bill Foster and hoped something more would have been done with him.

I remember reading in an old Bullpen Bulletins that Ed Hannigan had a Bill Foster story ready for Marvel Premiere or a similar title. But it was never published.  I wrote to him some time ago and asked him about it, but he didn't remember anything about it.

I enjoyed reading about supporting characters like Talia Kruma.  I research the Avengers quite often and was happy to see that Mark Gruenwald originally had her down as one of the Avengers' Support Crew back when that was a thing, Sadly, not much ever came of that.  Although, as I was re-reading Operation: Galactic Storm from the early 1990s Avengers, Talia did turn up as one of the scientists studying the sun onboard Starcore. I thought that was a nice touch.

I wanted to let you know that your introduction was appreciated. I hope that there are more in the works!

One more thing. Did you ever write in your blog about the Circus of Crime proposal that you have mentioned in various places?  I would be so curious to read that one!


I respond:

I’d be curious to (re)read that Circus of Crime proposal as well.  It hasn’t yet turned up in my Vast Accumulation of Stuff. When it does turn up, if it turns up, I’ll post it in the bloggy thing. In the meantime, let me give my memory a workout.

Two things you may already know about me if you’ve been reading my work for any length of time. I love goofy characters. I love a good redemption story. My pitch for CIRCUS SQUAD allowed me to address both of those.

What? You thought I was going to call the book THE CIRCUS OF CRIME? Yes, it’s catchier than my title, but I was turning these sad sack villains into heroes. Well, most of them.

I pitched this concept shortly after the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime were soundly defeated by...Howard the Duck. In a criminal career of unending humiliation, I figured that loss had to shake the Circus more than all their other defeats.

In prison, the demoralized circus criminals were model prisoners. Enter a young warden who felt he could reform the Circus and turn them into useful members of society. He brought the band back together to perform at a event for the prisoners and their families.

During the countless days and weeks and months of rehearsals, there was a spark of romance between Princess Python and the warden. She had never met a man who saw the best in her. He’d never met a woman like her. They never crossed the boundaries necessitated by their circumstances, but their mutual feelings were obvious. So obvious the Ringmaster, who was not remotely ready to change his criminal ways, thought he could exploit it.

As for the other members of the Circus, they were actually enjoying doing the circus stuff without the crime stuff. It was better than getting their butts kicked by Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor and any other hero whose path they crossed.

Come the big event. Due in no small part to the machinations of the Ringmaster, a massive prison break was planned to coincide with the performance. The guards and other security people would have to be more concerned with protecting the visitors than stopping convicts from escaping. The rest of the Circus had no idea what their boss had planned.

The performance. The prison break. The young warden is in jeopardy. Princess Python comes to his rescue and the rest of the Circus is right behind her. The warden has been straight with them and they aren’t about to let him come to harm. Heck, with the longing gazes they’ve seen between the Princess and the warden, they’ve come to think of him as part of the family.

The Circus fights side-by-side with the guards and against the escaping and rioting inmates. That includes super-powered inmates. They battle inmates more numerous and powerful than themselves, but do more than hold their own. Rescuing the warden and protecting civilians caught in this melee, the Circus win the day. They even beat those super-powered inmates.

In the aftermath, the Circus decide they like winning a whole lot better than losing...and attribute their victory to fighting on the right side for a change. They like this feeling.

Because of their heroism, the Circus are given a path to freedom. Under the guidance of the young warden, they will travel all around the country giving benefit performances at prisons and elsewhere. His own part in the attempted prison break remaining unknown, the Ringmaster would remain with the Circus, though he would always be secretly trying to return them to their former lives of crime. If the Circus continue to follow their new path, they will earn full pardons. They like that a lot.

Back when I first conceived this strange series, I figured that I could have a great time developing the Circus members. I could set stories all over the country. I could use guest-star super-heroes, including some who had fought the Circus of Crime. I could throw super-villains into the mix, some new, some old. I could even bring in a new member of the troupe from time to time, skilled inmates on their own paths to redemption and freedom.

In retrospect, if I were writing this series today, I would simple call it CIRCUS or THE CIRCUS. Realistically, with the circus being a fading entertainment in our present time, this book might be too hard to sell. Which is not to say I wouldn’t leap at the chance to give it a try.

In fact, I did sort of give it a try many years back. For a prose anthology called The Ultimate Super-Villains, Bob Ingersoll and I wrote a story which cast the Ringmaster into a very different light than he had ever been portrayed previously. That sadly-out-of-print tale remains a favorite of mine.

While some attempts to make the Ringmaster or his Circus of Crime more threatening have entertained me over the years, I prefer them as the semi-lovable band of losers they used to be. In some ways, they remind me of TV’s Legends of Tomorrow. You know those Legends are screw-ups, but it’s fun to watch them screw up and still save the day. I could envision THE CIRCUS having a similar vibe.

Getting back to Dan’s e-mail, I remain ready and able to write as many introductions as Marvel Collections Editor Cory Sedlmeier asks me to write. I enjoy writing them. Moreover, I believe the Marvel Universe and the universe in general would benefit from collections of Tigra, It! The Living Colossus and many other features that have not yet been collected.

That’s all for today, my bloggy friends. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

STRAIGHT OUTTA CLEVELAND

The news came out on Sunday. LeBron James has agreed to a four-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. For the second time in his career, the world’s greatest living basketball player is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers. My emotions on his decision are not mixed in the slightest. I wish him all the best.

I watched James carry his team through the season, the playoffs and the finals against the insanely dominant Golden State Warriors. At times, it seemed he was a one-man team. I don’t mean to slight the other Cavaliers - though I guess I just have - but LeBron was the guy driving the team.

As a long-suffering Cleveland fan, I’m used to disappointment from our sports teams. That started when the Cleveland Indians traded my favorite player. My appreciation for Rocky Colavito was and remains such that I named characters after him in Black Lightning and The Grim Ghost. I expect I will continue doing that.

I was not surprised James decided to leave the Cavaliers. He wants to get a few more championship rings before his career is over and the odds of him being able to get them in Cleveland were becoming increasingly slim.

Beyond the basketball aspects of Lebron’s decision, I consider his growing media empire. In a sense he already has dual citizenship in both Cleveland/Akron and Los Angeles. The move will help him grow his empire further.

James announced this decision in a dignified manner. He expressed his love for his home town and left no doubt he still considers it home. He’ll continue to do great things for Akron and Cleveland in the years to come. He is a great man. Of that, I have not a single doubt. He has given much back to the community and he will continue to give much back to the community.

This time around, no one seems to be attacking James for moving on with his career in another city. He brought us a championship that will always be remembered as one of the great achievements in NBA history. He gave us his all for as long as he could. I’m delighted to see the Cleveland fans recognizing that.

If I have any regrets about James going to Los Angeles, it’s that I never got a chance to meet him or work with him. Knowing that he was something of a comics reader at one time in his life, I’d hoped that I would work on a comic-book project with him. Indeed, though I knew I couldn’t get it into Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, I had worked out a meeting between my creation and LeBron. I thought I would use that scene in an ongoing Black Lightning series. That seems pretty unlikely at the moment.

But life is full of surprises. LeBron James is in Los Angeles and I may be moving from comic books to create projects in other media. The only thing that wouldn’t surprise me in my life is that there will certainly to be many surprises in my life.

I am a LeBron James fan. I admire him and I am appreciative of his good works in our community. If I ever get the chance to work with him, I would jump at it. I mean, not as impressively as he can jump during a basketball game, but as impressively as my aging short and squat body can manage.

Hey, big guy. Have your people call mine. I’m kidding. I don’t have people. But I will answer the phone if you call.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Monday, July 2, 2018

HARLAN ELLISON AND ME

Harlan Ellison, a dear friend and arguably the best writer of our time, died last week. His passing was not unexpected, save that he died peacefully in his sleep. As others have noted and as I think Harlan himself would find amusing, we expected Harlan to go down in some spectacular fashion as befit the manner in which he lived his life. He was 84 years old.

There have been articles detailing all of Harlan’s accomplishments and they are numerous. There have been many recountings of Harlan stories, some of them true and some of them fantasies and lies. In recent days, I have read stories told by Harlan’s many friends and feeble character assassinations by those who would never have had the courage to confront him in person. As a word of warning to the last group, it would not surprise me to see Harlan return as some great avenging spirit. He would be the best at that.

Today’s bloggy thing will be a series of stories involving Harlan and me. I tried to organize them, but that didn’t work for me. What follows is sort of chronological, but I can’t be certain I remember the sequences accurately.

I do remember the first time I met Harlan. It was at the 24th World Science Fiction Convention. Tricon, as it was also known, was held September 1-5, 1966 at the Sheraton in downtown Cleveland. The con was hosted by three cities in the region: Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit. Hence...Tricon.

I was just about to start my first year at St. Edward High School in nearby Lakewood. In many ways, though, Tricon was the start of a different kind of education. I met Don and Maggie Thompson there. I met Fred Cook, who invited me to write for Bronze Shadows, which was a fanzine focused on...you figure it out. I sat in awe at some panel which featured Isaac Asimov. I watched both pilot episodes of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. Extolling the virtues of the series was...Harlan Ellison.

I’d read a few Ellison stories prior to this. Meeting him face-to-face was a mind-opening experience. He did not dismiss me as some kid. He was friendly. He was perceptive. He was someone I took to and looked up to. From that moment on, I read everything he wrote. Some of what he wrote kept me sane. I'm not kidding about that.

Flash forward to my first days and weeks living in New York City. I was working at Marvel Comics and, in those days before I started doing considerable freelance writing for the company, I was pretty much broke all the time. I always paid my rent on time, but I did miss a few meals. I washed dishes in the ridiculously early hours of the morning to earn a free breakfast. On my first Thanksgiving in New York, my first away from my birth family in Cleveland, I got a turkey sandwich and a bottle of pop from a Brooklyn deli. Which left me enough for subway tokens and about one meal a day until my next payday. I was more than a little frightened and lonely during those first days and weeks. I had doubts about my chosen career path.

I had brought two books with me when I flew from Cleveland to New York. They were Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions, two anthologies edited by Harlan Ellison. Many of the stories in those books are rightfully considered to be classics, but it was Harlan’s introductions to each and every story that spoke to me more loudly than the stories themselves.

Harlan’s introductions made me realize that writing, the thing that I wanted to do more than anything else in my life, was every bit as noble an undertaking as I could imagine. By the end of that lonely Thanksgiving, instead of being forlorn, I was inspired to survive and thrive in that alien city.

Harlan kept me sane, which he never knew until I spoke at a special event honoring him in Cleveland many years later. He kept me going at the very start of my career. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he was floored by the revelations. I don’t think he really understood how vast his influence was on myself and countless other creators over the decades. Yet it was.

I saw Harlan a few times while still living in New York. This would generally be at conventions. Once we talked about my adapting his story “Along the Scenic Route” for one of Marvel’s black-and-white magazines. When the story first appeared, it was titled “Dogfight on 101" and, to this day, I prefer that title. Still, I would have adapted the story if Harlan called it “Yo Mama!” It was an action-packed tale with an unlikely protagonist. It was eventually adapted by someone else and not for Marvel, but it looked and read great.

After I’d moved back to the Cleveland area, Harlan came to town to give a talk. I was there and so was a former business partner who I had booted from said business for various reasons, including his stealing from the business. Like an annoying gnat, this guy would attempt to vex me from time to time. On this occasion, while I was talking with Harlan, the creep made a lame short joke directed at me. Harlan silenced him with a few words and a stare. That’s when I realized Harlan and I were, indeed, friends and that he’d always have my back.

I hosted Harlan at 1988's International Superman Exposition. Since I was allegedly running the thing, I was going back and forth the whole time. Adding to my anxiety, my Saintly Wife Barb was about to give birth to our first child. The convention volunteers were told they always had to know where she was and where I was in case our son decided he wanted to make his debut at the convention.

Harlan made a few jokes about not understanding why a woman would want to “reproduce” with me. They were funny in a way that friends get. But Harlan also made sure I went to our green room to eat on a regular basis. One time, he practically dragged me into the room and led me down the buffet line to make sure I ate my vegetables. He was particularly fond of the steamed carrots.

On my too-rare trips to Los Angeles, I was always invited to share a meal and spend time at the fabulous Ellison Wonderland. Which is the greatest house I’ve ever seen. Every room, every part of every room, is a work of art. If I have any regrets about my friendship with Harlan and his wondrous wife Susan, it was that I was unable to convince them to document every corner of that house on video. His response was that he didn’t want potential thieves to know what they had. Mine was to tell him to shoot the video and not release it during their lifetimes.

The other regret is that I didn’t get to spend even more time with them. I loved them madly and never doubted they felt the same way about me.

During a low time in my life and career, Harlan would call me twice a month or so. Just to check up on me. He would give me advice and we would joke with each other. Sometimes he would call asking for some information. On more than one occasion, he would read me his latest story. Let that sink in. The finest writer of our time. One of my favorite writers. He would call and read me his new story. A private performance. It staggers me to recall how often that happened.

Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor was a comics anthology wherein some of the very best writers and artists in the business would create comics adaptations of Ellison stories. Everyone wanted to be part of that series. Most of those who contributed were among the most popular writers and artists in the field. And then there was me.

Harlan said I could pick any story I wanted and was delighted when I picked a dark little comedy called “Opposites Attract”. It wasn't a well-known story, but it tickled me when I first read it and stayed with me ever since. Seek it out. Both Harlan’s prose version and the comics version by myself and artist Rags Morales.

Harlan was pleased with my script and the various comics cookies I worked into the script. He did complain that I had capitalized the word “God” in some dialogue. I reminded him that this was comics. Every letter in every word would be capitalized. Besides which, at the time the story took place, most people would have had at least some passing reverence for God. Harlan accepted my arguments.

I rank Harlan as one of the best editors I’ve ever had. Though we only did that one story together, I was amazed at how generous an editor he was. It was his prose story, but he always sought to make my script the best Tony Isabella script I could write. He set the standard for editors that I have always hoped for. I was fortunate to have such editors on my recent Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands mini-series for DC.

The last time I visited Harlan was in early 2014. Bob Ingersoll and I celebrated my receiving a very nice check for a comics company by going to Los Angeles to spend time with friends when there wasn’t a convention to prevent us from spending time with those friends. You can find my trip reports in the bloggy thing archives.

There are two Isabella quotes that Harlan has used in his stories or elsewhere. One is “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved” and the other is “Expediency is not heroism.”

Harlan had the latter quote made into a plaque where it hung on his office wall surrounded by quotes by much smarter, much better known people than me. It is an honor I will always cherish.

Harlan and I talked a few times after that. As his health declined, we talked less. Knowing how he was struggling, knowing his energy levels were down, I didn’t want to impose on our friendship. I’ll always wonder if that was the right thing to do.

One thing I don’t wonder about is this:

Harlan loved me and I loved him. He showed me that love countless times over the years. I haven’t wept over Harlan’s passing, but the memories of his love have tears rolling down my face as I complete this piece. The world is diminished in his absence.

Harlan wrote something or this occasion:

For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered.

The brief time he was here is over. The brief time he mattered is not over by a long shot. He entertained and informed and inspired and loved so many people with his kindnesses and his writings that our memories of him will not fade in our lifetimes.

Thank you, Harlan.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Sunday, July 1, 2018

THINGS THAT MADE ME HAPPY IN JUNE

You know the drill on this monthly feature. Life is chaotic. Life is sometimes joyous and sometimes very hard. Every day, I post one of these to remain myself of the good things in my life.

June saw me discovering the Comet channel in my cable package and recording a whole bunch of sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 1960s. I traveled to the Fingerlakes Comic Con, a little show with a lot of heart that got screwed over by its venue. I held my first Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales. Marvel Comics brought me to New York for a special screening of Luke Cage Season Two and then, a mere three days later, Los Angeles for the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. While we were out of town, fourteen new windows were installed in our house.

June ended with sadness. Harlan Ellison, my dear friend of so many decades, passed in his sleep. I’m  dealing with my grief and will be writing about Harlan very soon.

June ended with hope. While “From Tony Isabella, Creator of Black Lightning” doesn’t seem to mean as much to DC Comics/Entertainment  as it should, it means something to others. By the end of July, I hope to announce my next major gig. It’s not comics.

July will likely involve considerable writing, hard work, ups and downs. As we commence this new month, here are the things that made me happy last month...

June 1: Black Lightning Season Two will have 16 episodes, three up from the first season. I’m excited!

June 2: My pal Rick Santman gave me a copy of Patsy and Hedy Annual #1 for use in a future installment of my “July 1963" series in my bloggy thing.

June 3: Comet TV. I’m loving this channel. Old monster and science fiction movies, many of which I have never seen or have not seen in years. Look for reviews in upcoming my bloggy things.
                                                                                

June 4: Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. One of the very best war comics of all time is again being reprinted in what I think is the best format yet. Brilliant comics and recommended to one and all.

June 5: After over a decade of work being stalled on it, our master bedroom bathroom (aka Barb’s bathroom) is almost finished. We just need a door for the shower and a new radiator.

June 6: Brian Augustyn. My former Black Lightning editor posted a Facebook message of friendship, respect and support that was a big help in helping me shake off the blues.

June 7: I’ll be down to just two storage units by the end of June. With luck, I’ll be down to just one by the end of September. This is an Isabella family milestone.
                                                                             

June 8: The Fingerlakes Comic Con. Promoter Joey Gates worked hard on this event. I had a great time hanging out with friends old and new.

June 9: Dinner with Ed Catto and Don McGregor on Friday night. Such good people.

June 10: Spending time with my friends Dionne and Jeanie during the Fingerlakes Comic Con.

June 11: Dinner with John Zarkour and his family on Saturday. John writes so much cool stuff it makes me dizzy.

June 12: Saintly Wife Barb and I will be going to the premiere of Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp in Los Angeles.
                                                                                
June 13: The Asylum’s Avengers Grimm: Time Wars. Not a great movie, but an entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.

June 14: An old friend wants to work with me on a project involving two characters I’ve written before. Five minutes after I tell him I’ll come up with something, I come up with something really cool.

June 15: Mike Colter talking Luke Cage on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. It’s so great to see our super-hero world on one of my favorite programs. I’m very excited for season two.

June 16: Friday kicked off my first garage sale of 2018. My friends Martin and Pam drove in from Michigan and I saw many local friends as well. I made 79% of my goal for the two-day event.

June 17: Seeing Steve Benjamin, former employee of my Cosmic Comics store in the 1980s and a member of my wedding party, at my garage sale. He’s now a drama teacher and hasn’t aged more than a couple days.

June 18: Saturday evening with Barb. We celebrated our anniversary with a nice meal at Burntwood Tavern, picked up my new suit, did a bit of shopping at Earth Fare and visited son Ed in his new house. Raising two great kids in 34 years of marriage and counting. Yes, I know I’m blessed.

June 19: Father’s Day with Barb, Ed and Kelly. The kids helped me reduce my storage units from three to two. We had a great dinner at Fiesta Jalapeno.
                                                                                  

June 20: DC Comics Variant Covers: The Complete Visual History. I question the “complete” part, but this coffee table book is so gorgeous I want to buy a new coffee table just to put it on.

June 21: Showed Ant-Man to Saintly Wife Barb in preparation for our attending the premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp. She enjoyed it and I enjoyed watching it again with her.

June 22: Having dinner with my goddaughter Kara and her mom Sandie in New York City, then seeing Kara’s sixth floor walk-up and not dying. Guess there’s still some life in me.
                                                                                 

June 23: Attending a special screening of the first two episodes of Luke Cage Season Two. Watching great television with great people. Thanks to David Bogart, Tim Brevoort and Brian Overton for making me feel like part of the Marvel family.

June 24: Attending a New York Mets game with my son Ed. Citi Field is a pretty nice ballpark and, though the Mets lost, we saw a grand slam home run.
                                                                                

June 25: Attending the Ant-Man and the Wasp premiere in Los Angeles with Saintly Wife Barb. Terrific event, terrific movie and terrific personal moments with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne.

June 26: Breakfast with Mark Evanier, one of my dearest and oldest friends. He even drove Barb and I to LAX afterward.

June 27: Fourteen new windows for Casa Isabella. Sure, technically, they are still being installed as I post this, but they sure look swell.

June 28: Getting a new window in my office and opening it for the first time in a decade. While it lasted, the fresh air breeze was nice.
                                                                                

June 29: Harlan Ellison. I mourn his loss while being grateful for his friendship and all the ways he showed me how much he loved me. It was mutual.

June 30: Rob Liefeld’s nice shout-out to me on Facebook. Rob and I might have different approaches to comics, but he loves comics as much as anyone. I’m happy to call him a friend.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella