Monday, December 30, 2019

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2019 REVIEWS #4

What has gone before:

This is the fourth column in a series reviewing the special comics given out by comics retailers for Halloween Comicfest. In the first two columns, I covered all the digest-size issues created for the event. Now weve moved on to the traditional-size comics.

Halloween ComicFest...the comic book industry’s premiere fall event – a single day when participating comic book specialty shops across North America and around the world give away specially published comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops. HCF is the perfect event to experience comic shops as destinations for Halloween and horror-themed comic books, collectibles and other merchandise! In other words, Halloween ComicFest is the Spooky Free Comic Book Day!

These Halloween Comicfest comics were sent to me by my dear friends at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. When I write about these comic books, I look at three areas.

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want and be able to buy more of the same?

I score FCBD offerings on a scale of zero to ten. Each category is worth three points with the tenth point coming from my interest in seeing more of what’s ever in the book.

We begin with a truly awful comic book from a publisher who should know better but doesn’t...

DCeased #1 [DC Comics] features a 26-page story in which SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD Darkseid becomes an anti-life zombie and destroys Apokolips but not before an infected Cyborg is sent back to Earth and unleashes some sort of technological zombie plague on a world that has surely suffered enough from an unending stream of pointless crossover events.

QUALITY: The technical proficiency of the writer and the somewhat less technical proficiency of the artist is not enough to overcome a monumentally stupid concept.

ACCESSIBILITY: It’s not difficult to follow the story. Which is not a blessing in this case.

SALESMANSHIP: Very good. There are ten pages of house ads for other DC Comics books, including a two-page spread for the current “Year of the Villain” crossover event. Because why should we have super-hero titles that actually focus on the super-heroes the titles are named for. Why that would be crazy.

SCORE: Six points out of a possible ten points, but that’s strictly based on the accessibility and salesmanship. Hold your nose while you walk away from this one.

                                                                         

Doodleville/Aster and the Accidental Magic [Penguin Random House] contains excerpts from both of those graphic novels as well as an “exclusive new story from Lincoln Peirce,” the creator of the Big Nate comic strip and books. All of these stories are intended for younger readers.

QUALITY: Pretty good. The basic concepts are interesting. However, the brief excerpts don’t compel as well as longer samples might have. The Big Nate short story is fun.

ACCESSIBILITY: Not as good as it could have been. The Doodleville excerpt stops just as it’s getting good and before we learn what we need to do about the apparently living doodles. The Aster excerpt gets bogged down by exposition near its end.

SALESMANSHIP: Good. There are house ads for these three titles and some other Penguin Random House books. The inside covers, front and back, are blank. That’s a horrible waste of space.

SCORE: Five points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                            

I was not a stranger to the lead feature in Viz’s The Drifting Classroom/Smashed Halloween ComicFest giveaway. I had a few volumes of Kazuo Umezz’s tale of a school mysteriously transported to some alien hostile place. Also in this comic was an excerpt from Junji Ito’s anthology of horror stories.

QUALITY: Both excerpts are well-done. However, I don’t believe The Drifting Classroom excerpt would have hooked me if I hadn’t already read a few volumes of the series.

ACCESSIBILITY: Good, but not outstanding. As you probably gathered from my above remarks, I think The Drifting Classroom segment was not as effective as it could have been.

SALESMANSHIP: Okay. The back cover has an advertisement for these two series.

SCORE: Eight points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                         

I enjoyed House of Fear: Attack of the Killer Snowmen [Dark House], which featured a 26-page story written by James Powell with art by Jethro Morales and Mike Erandio, colors by Josh Jensen and letters by Matt Krotzer.

QUALITY: This was a fun and suitable for all ages story. Top marks to the creative crew. I’m going to try to a copy of the anthology from my local library system.

ACCESSIBILITY: It was easy for a reader to get into this fun combo of adventure, horror and humor.

SALESMANSHIP: Very good. There’s a house ad for the anthology and several house ads for other Dark Horse publications.

SCORE: Ten points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                                  

Iyanu: Child of Wonder Chapter One [Youneek Studios] features a 26-page story about a remarkable child, considered an outcast by the very people her mother and her try to protect. Inspired by African history, Iyanu was created and written by Roye Okupe, who is also Youneek’s art director. It’s drawn by Godwin Akpan and lettered by Spoof Comics.

QUALITY: Excellent. The writing and the art are first-rate. I want to read more about Iyanu.

ACCESSIBILITY. Excellent with one glitch. The English translations of some speech balloon are given in captions placed at the bottom of panels. But the captions are so small and the text is printed in white letters on colored backgrounds that they are nigh-impossible to read, even with a magnifying glass.

SALESMANSHIP: Poor. While the back cover ad talks about the Youneek Youniverse, there aren’t any mentions of individual graphic novels. To get information about where to find more Iyanu, you have to go to the publisher’s website.

SCORE: Seven points out of a possible ten points.

That’s it for now. Look for more Halloween ComicFest reviews soon.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Sunday, December 22, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

What has gone before:

Tony “the Tiger” Isabella was born on December 22, 1951, making him 68 years old today. He’s still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up.

I had this health scare a few weeks ago. For months, it seemed like I had little to no energy. I chalked it up to convention exhaustion after doing well over a dozen of them this year. I tried to tell myself it was frustration over a comics industry that almost never makes any logical sense. I considered seasonal depression, but that would mean Ohio had seasons that showed up on schedule and didn’t overlap on each other. I opined that the destruction of democracy by our IMPOTUS - Impeached President of the United States - and the Republicans was weighing heavily on me. I even thought my lethargy might simply be a matter of my getting on in years.

Ultimately, my blurred vision and other unpleasant symptoms got me to ask Saintly Wife Barb to take me to an emergency room. The staff was caring, efficient, friendly and professional. They took blood and blood pressure. They conferred. Then the smiling Doctor Scheky came in for his drop-the-mic moment.

DOCTOR: Are you diabetic?

ME: No.

DOCTOR: Well, you are now!

[Drum roll]

I have been diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic. At its height, my blood sugar reading was 550. Today, my average reading is under 150 and the last reading I took before writing this bloggy thing was 123. There have been ups and down, and I won’t pretend I haven’t had really bad emotional moments along the way, though they stopped short of my contemplating death by doughnut.

I went cold turkey on everything that makes life worth living. No, no, I exaggerate for effect. I gave up Pepsi and other such drinks. I did so immediately. That’s something I never thought I’d be able to do. I assumed my body was at least 20% carbonated beverages. I guess I was wrong about that, too.

I gave up potato chips and other snacks. I gave up all fast food. I mostly gave up pizza. (The personal size DiGiorno’s Thin Crust Cheese Pizza comes in within my carbohydrate limits.) I haven’t had Chinese food since I went to the ER, but I hope someday I will be able to enjoy that again. I stopped eating white bread and eat very little bread at all. Mostly whole grain. It’s been a struggle, but I have it on good authority that there are a great many people who approve of my continued existence. I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

I’m losing weight. I’m under 200 pounds for the first time in one or two decades. There’s a possibility that, soon, clothes that have never fit me, may fit me. If not, I’ll have to go shopping for new clothes. Barb is eager to have me do this.

I can’t say my energy is wholly back, but it’s much higher than it has been in months. I’ve started writing again and hope to resume my usual workload by the end of the year.

When I started this bloggy thing, I planned to discuss the things I hope to accomplish in the new year. I think I’ll save that for my New Year’s Day column.

In closing, I’m damn glad to be here for my 68th birthday. As far as a birthday cake goes, I think I’m allowed to look at pictures of birthday cakes online. Please understand that my licking the screen is not a kink of some sort.

I’m also damn grateful for the love and support of my Saintly Wife, my kids Ed and Kelly, my friends here in Ohio and online. I could not maintain my positive attitude without all of you.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Saturday, December 21, 2019

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2019 REVIEWS #3

What has gone before:

This is the third column in a series reviewing the special comics given out by comics retailers for Halloween Comicfest. In the first two columns, I covered all the digest-size issues created for the event. Now we’re moving on to the traditional-size comics.

Halloween ComicFest, the comic book industry’s premiere fall event, is a day when participating comic book specialty shops across North America and around the world give away specially published comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops. HCF is the perfect event to experience comic shops as destinations for Halloween and horror-themed comic books, collectibles and other merchandise! In other words, Halloween ComicFest is the Spooky Free Comic Book Day!

These Halloween Comicfest comics were sent to me by my dear friends at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. When I write about these comic books, I look at three areas.

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want and be able to buy more of the same?

I score FCBD offerings on a scale of zero to ten. Each category is worth three points with the tenth point coming from my interest in seeing more of what’s ever in the book.

Let’s get started...

The Adventures of Cthulhu Jr. and Dastardly Dirk from Source Point Press is one of the most fun giveaways, especially if you know my pal Dirk Manning who created and wrote it with artist Scoot McMahon and colorist Sean Burres. The premise is that family man Manning is hoping to join an evil organization and become a premiere villain. This shocked the heck out of me because, prior to this comic book, the only indicator that Dirk was evil was his unholy mastery of karaoke. The 22-page story introduces Junior in its final pages.

QUALITY: What’s not to like? It’s an entertaining story that made me laugh. I think most readers will enjoy it.

ACCESSIBILITY: Everything you need to know to understand this story is in the story. Which is how it should be.

SALESMANSHIP: Very good. Four pages of ads and an inside back cover that shows the characters and identifies them.

FINAL SCORE: Ten points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                              

Aspen Mascots and the Portals of Doom #1 [Aspen Comics] is 32 pages of comics and activities - puzzles and the like - by writer Vince Hernandez with artist Alex Arizmendi.

QUALITY: This is excellent stuff. The story flows well through the comics pages and the attendant activities. Terrific fun for young readers.

ACCESSIBILITY: Aye, there’s the rub. As charming as the characters are, readers are given no background on them whatsoever. A page of two of “our cast” would have been helpful.

SALESMANSHIP: Poor. The back cover ad shows dozens of Aspen graphic novels at a ridiculously small size and none of them seem remotely appropriate for the younger readers of this giveaway comic.

SCORE: Three points out of a possible ten points.
                                                                                 

Bakemonogatari [Vertical Comics] features the first chapter of the manga series starring Koyomi Araragi. He’s a high school student, once turned into a vampire and then cured, who retains some powers, such as superhuman healing and enhanced vision. He tries to help others who suffer from supernatural maladies. I tell you all this because there’s no hint of his back story in this comic.

QUALITY: Illustrated by the humble Oh!Great from the original story by Nisioisin, this first chapter is engaging enough that I took to the Internet to learn more about the character.

ACCESSIBILITY: Poor. As I said above, I had to go online to learn basic information that should have been available in this giveaway comic book.

SALESMANSHIP: Good. The final interior page advertises the initial volumes in the series. The back cover advertises Imperfect Girl, another Nisioisin story. I’m going to see if my library can get me both of these series.

SCORE: Seven points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                                    

Battlecats [Mad Cave] didn’t feature the current heroes, but a 20-page story of some earlier version of the team. That struck me as an odd decision for the publisher to make.

QUALITY: Okay. The writing was average at best. The art was better, but the over-rendering and unsure storytelling hurt that as well.

ACCESSIBILITY: Not awful, but not great either. There’s an inside front cover paragraph that sets up the story, but, on more than one occasion, I felt lost.

SALESMANSHIP: Excellent. There were full-page ads for several other Mad Cave titles with enough information to give a readers an idea of what those titles are about.

SCORE: Five points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                                  

Dark Red #1 [Aftershock] contains a 20-page, black-and-white story by Tim Seeley with art by Corin Howell. Protagonist Chip works in a small town convenience store...and he’s a vampire. His need for blood is satisfied by Evie, a human woman whose body produces too much blood. Complications arise because Evie wants to go to the big city and because other vampires have invaded Chip’s turf.

QUALITY: This is a terrific opening to what I assume is an ongoing comics series. Writing and art are first-rate. Chip and Evie are interesting character. The other vampires? My jury of one is still out on them. But I will be checking out the series.

ACCESSIBILITY: Clear storytelling from both the writer and artist makes getting into this story a breeze.

SALESMANSHIP: Excellent. There are several pages of house ads for Aftershock titles and they contain enough information for a reader to decide if they’d like to check them out.

SCORE: Ten points out of a possible ten points.

I’ve more Halloween ComicFest reviews to come. With a little luck, I’ll get through the rest of the free comics between now and early January. In the meantime...

Tomorrow will be a special “Tony Isabella’s Birthday” bloggy thing. Expect much whining on account of I’m old and diabetic. Which means no birthday cake for me. See you then.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Friday, December 20, 2019

THINGS THAT MADE ME HAPPY IN NOVEMBER

Several years ago, I decided I would take a few minutes every day to list one thing that made me happy. It was my defense against a world that is often cruel and illogical. These daily affirmations, if you will, have come to mean a lot to me and, judging from reader response, to you as well. Here are the things that made me happy in November...

November 1: Koren Shadmi’s The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television. A biographical graphic novel of a writer whose works influenced countless writers, including myself.

November 2: Akron Comicon 2019. Building on the work of original promoters Bob Jenkins and Michael Savene, new owners Dan Gorman and Jason Miller put on an amazing event. The place was packed, the sales were great, the fun was huge. Well done, gentlemen!

November 3: Akron Comicon. I was interviewed four times over the show, including live for the WKYC Sunday morning show in Cleveland. My hands down favorite was being interviewed by eight-year-old Max for a You Tube channel he and his dad are creating. He's a bright young man and he's already terrific at this.

November 4: Akron Comicon. Great conversations with fans, friend and fellow professionals. This is the kind of show where you can do that and still make money at your table.

November 5: Bob Ingersoll’s The Law Is a Ass Volume Two: Hear Ye, Hear Ye! I’ll consume this slowly like the fine whine it is. Note: the cover is almost identical to the first book. Make sure you buy the new one.

November 6: In my very Republican home town of Medina, all four of the one-issue, anti-LGBT candidates for City Council were defeated. Bigotry was rejected. It gives me hope for the future.

November 7: My son the political operative. I’m proud of the great work Ed did helping elect progressive candidates in our home town. He’s smart, practical and tenacious. I look forward to the day when he runs for office and disavows me ala Reverend Wright because I’m too far out there. Vote for Ed!

November 8: Grand Rapids Comic Con 2019. Mark Hodges and his amazing team put on one of the best conventions in the country. Great guests and fans and special features. If you’re a comics professional and he invites you, just say “yes” as fast as you can.

November 9: Grand Rapids Comic Con. Spending much time with the adventurous Jennifer Riker, attending her first comics convention. She plays Dr. Helga Jace on Black Lightning and has been on lots of other great shows as well. Her dad Howard was there, so proud of his daughter and, get this, he was a commander in the military. That’s right. He was a honest-to-gosh Commander Riker. Beam me up! 11-9-19.

November 10: Grand Rapids Comic Con. Getting congratulated on Black Lightning by Tony Todd. Meeting Vernon Wells, who was in one of my favorite movies, Weird Science. Meeting Patrick Warburton, who is always fun in whatever he does.

November 11: Grand Rapids Comic Con. Christy McCulfor, a talented young cartoonist who I met and gave advice to at an earlier Grand Rapids event, had a table in Artist Alley and was selling copies of her first books. She had a great show.

November 12: Grand Rapids Comic Con. Spending some time with Gail Simone and husband Scott. They thanked me for my support of Gail at the start of her glorious (and continuing to be so) career. If I played even the smallest part in all that she’s accomplished, I count that as high among my own achievements. Love them madly.

November 13: Grand Rapids Comic Con. Chatting with 90-year-old Vic Carrabotta, who did so much wonderful work for Marvel Comics in the 1950s in virtually every genre they published. It was a highlight of my weekend.

November 14: Grand Rapids Comic Con. The Black Lightning panel with Jennifer Riker went well. She got to see something I’ve experienced many times: a fan tearing up while talking about Black Lightning and what he means to her. If DC Comics execs could experience such things, they’d stop diminishing their most iconic black super-hero.

November 15: Grand Rapids Comic-Con. It’s an annual tradition for Thom (Love and Capes) Zahler and I to drive to the convention in my SUV. He’s a terrific traveling companion. This is a “journey is as much fun as the destination” thing. Already looking forward to our next trip.

November 16: Last Monday’s Black Lightning made me love the cast, crew, directors and writers more than ever. This is the best super-hero show on television.

November 17: Pat Sajak and Vanna White, hosts of Wheel of Fortune, are just so darned pleasant. Saintly Wife Barb and I enjoy watching them. We wish speedy recovery to the recently hospitalized Sajak and look forward to White filling in for him.

November 18: Alter Ego #161. A full-issue tribute to Stan Lee. I’m smiling as I read most entries, getting a little sad reading some others, but, always, always, thinking fondly of a man who meant so much to me and millions of comics fans.

November 19: Bob (Hearts) Abishola gets better every week, combining humor and human stories effortlessly. The emergence of supporting cast members Bayo Akinfemi and Anthony Okungbowa has made the show even more entertaining.

November 20: Rep. Adam Schiff ended a day of hearings with strong rebuke of GOP: “They don’t object to President Trump’s conduct, only ‘that he got caught’.” We need more people like Schiff in our government.

November 21: DC Thomson Media. When a serious problem arose with my Commando subscription, the company moved swiftly to make it right. The situation isn’t entirely resolved, but the snafu seems to be on this end of the Atlantic.

November 22: The Unicorn has become another Barb/Tony favorite at Casa Isabella. It took the supporting players a couple episodes to gel, but we’re getting very funny, very human performances and stories.

November 23: Elise Nussbaum. I try not to get attached to Jeopardy champions, but the 40-year-old financial coach from Jersey City, is a delight. She’s smart, funny and genuine, and she rocks the 1960s and 1970s fashions she favors. She’s won three times and I hope her run continues.

November 24: Brother: A Story of Autism by Carlton Hudgens as told by Bridget Hudgens with art by Nam Kim. The Zucker Teen Topics GNs have been a mixed bag, but this one hits all the right notes. It’s worthy of nomination in the next batch of comics awards.

November 25: Yesterday. As I was loading my SUV, a couple walking their dog stopped to thank me for supporting LGBT citizens in my letters published in the local newspaper.

November 26: Operation Peril. PS Artbooks is collecting this 1950s series from ACG (The American Comics Group). Detective, science-fiction, adventure, horror. There are some awkward “of the times” moments in a few stories, but, for the most part, these are fun tales with terrific art.

November 27: The Isabella Family has cleared another storage unit, reducing our count to just one and saving me $72 a month in rent. Our remaining storage unit is packed, but I hope to empty that one by the end of summer 2020.

November 28: Mac Raboy Master of the Comics by Roger Hill. Another worthy addition to the great TwoMorrows library of comics history books.

November 29: Disney Never Lands. Another fascinating book by Disney historian Jim Korkis. This one is on great ideas that never quite made it to reality.

November 30: Ohio State 56, Michigan 27. That’s eight wins in a row for this rivalry. ‘Nuff said.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Thursday, December 19, 2019

THINGS THAT MADE ME HAPPY IN OCTOBER

New bloggy things have been too few and too far between in recent months. I attributed this slowdown to a combination of convention exhaustion, depression, flu, frustration with the comics industry and just plain “Tony ain’t as young as he used to be.” It turns out my self-diagnosis was wrong.

My blood sugar levels have been rising for what I now believe has been several months. When I finally went to the emergency room in early December, I learned I was a type 2 diabetic. Before I got it under control, I had hit 550. As a baseball hitting average, that would be great. As a diabetic, not so much.

Fortunately, once I knew the cause of my problems, I had an enemy I could fight. I went absolutely cold turkey on a bunch of things I never thought I could live without: Pepsi, chips, Chinese food, pizza and more. I started watching what I eat, taking naps when I was tired and not beating myself up when I didn’t do everything I wanted to do in any given day. My average blood sugar reading is now at 150 or so.

I’m feeling much better. I’m writing again. The blurry vision that forced me to the emergency room is largely back to normal with the difference being quite easily explained by my not having gotten a new prescription in a few years. An eye examination is on my list of things to do in the immediate future. I expect to be around for many years to come.

Even when I was at my lowest points, there was never a day in which someone or something didn’t make me happy. Here’s my list of those things that made me happy in October:

October 1: The Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 8 by Stan Sakai. I’ve just started reading this latest volume, further evidence that Sakai is our greatest living comics creator.

October 2: Bob (Hearts) Abishola is lighthearted fun. Bob was just a tad too stalker-ish in the pilot, but the show course-corrected by the second episode. Most sitcoms leave me cold, but this one is working for me.

October 3: Desi Lydic’s hilarious and spot-on takedown of Yelp on last night’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Lydic is so good she should have her own show, be it a talk show or a sitcom.
                                                                             

October 4: The open-to-interpretation conclusion of Jun Mayuzuki’s After the Rain manga was satisfying. This tale of the relationship between a divorced restaurant manager with a son and a much younger woman could have been creepy. Instead, wherever that relationship goes, both people are better for having met the other.

October 5: Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD is eye-opening and demands we look at ourselves more closely.

October 6: Monster from Green Hell. When a never-before-seen cheesy monster movie from 1957 is just what I needed to forget by earthly woes for an hour and change.

October 7: Batwoman. I liked the pilot, which struck me as a cross between Arrow and Gotham. I would prefer more Gotham and more Kate creating her own supportive family. I’m guardedly optimistic about this show.

October 8: The Simpsons. “Go Big or Go Homer” was a swell episode and proves why the series is in its 31st season. A hearty well done to guest voices Michael Rapaport, the sublime Joe Mantegna and the use of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run”.

October 9: Black Lightning’s third season premiere. I’m constantly amazed at how much great story this show packs into every episode.Action, human drama, suspense and surprises all brought to us by a cast, crew, writers and directors who are the best in the business.
                                                                               

October 10: Supergirl’s new costume. Specifically, the wee squeal of delight from Kara when she looks down and exclaims “Pants!” No more stiff necks from perverts trying to look up her skirt as she flies overhead.

October 11: Figuring out what I have to do to bring my anxiety and other challenges under control. Always forward.

October 12: Back Issue #116. The “Superheroes and Monsters” issue with terrific articles by editor Michael Eury, Michael Kronenberg, Karl Heitmueller and others.

October 13: The Naked Monster (2005). A glorious and hilarious love letter to the monster movies of the past and the courageous actors who fought those creatures. Am I too old to be crushing on Brinke Stevens?

October 14: Wonder Woman Giant #1's Wonder Woman/Harley Quinn team-up by writers Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Inaki Miranda was delightful. It hurts to smile this much while reading a comic book.
                                                                           

October 15: Black Lightning. The matter-of-course malignancy of Agent Odell (as realized by Bill Duke) and how it infects and makes toxic everything around him. The battle I most want to see in this season is Odell versus Tobias Whale.

October 16: Distancing myself from the mainstream comics industry. I’d rather be writing comics for Marvel, DC and other outfits, but there’s comfort in realizing I don’t have to worry about whatever “big news” comes down and how it might affect me. The short answer: it won’t.

October 17: Young Sheldon. In its third season, each episode has a new opening featuring Sheldon’s family and Sheldon himself wearing a different costume/outfit. That’s a nice touch. He was the Flash last week.

October 18: Fanboy Expo 2.0. I had a lovely weekend in Knoxville. Great convention, staff, and volunteers. Friendly fans and guests. More specific happy to follow.

October 19: Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Company. I’ve enjoyed their root beer at many conventions, but their mix was off at the last one I attended. It was back to its normal incredible at Fanboy Expo. I bought a mini-mug with free refills.

[UPDATE: Alas, this root beer is one of many things I am no longrt able to enjoy. It’s not you, Wild Bill. It’s me.]

October 20: Fanboy Expo. The gracious Susan Egan signed a photo of Megara (Disney’s Hercules) for my “other daughter” Giselle. Meg is Giselle’s favorite Disney heroine and, of course, Susan voiced the character wondrously..

October 21: Fanboy Expo. The best part of the show was seeing old friend Sean Kelly. He brought me gifts from Japan and more. A Navy veteran, he’ll be moving on to a new job soon and I hope to see him in that city, too.
                                                                                 

October 22: My Periodic Table-inspired “Na Na Na Na...Batman” shirt got many compliments. A young woman at the hotel asked me if I was a scientist.

October 23: Fanboy Expo. I sold stuff to a couple celebrating their anniversary, signed their 9.4 slabbed Black Lightning #1 (on the case) and gave them Black Lightning pins as an anniversary present. The guy was raised in nearby Wadsworth, Ohio. Gotta take care of my homes.

October 24: All Cats Are Introverts. It’s Francisco Marciuliano’s  seventh book of pet poetry. It’s hilarious. I own his first book (I Could Pee on That). I must have them all. Entertaining stuff from the writer of Judge Parker, Sally Forth and Medium Large.

October 25: Sir Bagby by brothers Bill and Rick Hackney. As seen in Comics Revue, the only reprinting of the 1957-1967 newspaper strip, it’s medieval tropes with sly commentary on political and social issues. It truly deserves to be more widely known.

October 26: Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas. A deserved tribute to one of Marvel’s all-time best writers. This over 300-page hardcover reprints unforgettable done-in-one comics by the guy who inspired me, hired me, taught me and remains my friend.
                                                                                

October 27: World’s Finest The Collection. I ordered the Batman 80th Anniversary box on a whim, remembering the days when I liked Batman. It turned out to be an amazing box of cool Batman stuff I showcased on my Facebook page.

October 28: The Adventures of Tintin: The Complete Collection. I’m celebrating the 90th anniversary of HergĂ©’s great creation with this slipcase set of all 23 albums in eight hardcover volumes. It’s my Halloween/birthday/Christmas present to myself.

October 29: What You Get for Your Money on HGTV. Two couples with the same amount of money buying houses in different states. Hosted by a snarky unseen narrator with a thick Brooklyn accent. Saintly Wife Barb and I are hooked.

[UPDATE: Not everyone enjoyed this show as much as I did. It made a quick departure from the airwaves.]

October 30: Halloween Comicfest. My pals at Stormwatch Comics have sent me this year’s special comics. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing them.

October 31: On this date in 1972, I started work at Marvel Comics in New York. That it was Halloween reminds me that working in the industry is equal parts fun and nightmare. But I’m proud of my 47 years in comics.

That’s all for now, my friends. If all goes as planned, tomorrow’s bloggy will list the things that made me happy in November. See you then.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

TONY'S TIPS #321

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Superman Smashes the Klan #1 by New York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang with art by Gurihiru; Brother: A Story of Autism by Bridget and Carlton Hudgens with art by Nam Kim and Alter Ego #161, a full-issue tribute to Stan Lee!
                                                                                     
                                                                             


Friday, December 13, 2019

BLACK LIGHTNING REACHES OUT

I’m sometimes asked why I so vigorously demand Black Lightning be treated with integrity and respect. Especially when doing so puts me at odds with DC Comics. I’ve always taken considerable pride in my having creating DC’s most iconic black super-hero. But it’s far more than that.

Several years back, at a comics convention, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and told me Black Lightning was the first comic book she ever bought for herself because it was the first time she saw herself in a comic book. In that instant, as I also got teary, everything changed for me. I became acutely aware that Black Lightning was far bigger than me, that, as the creator of this hero, I had a responsibility to readers like that woman. It is a responsibility I continue to accept and try to fulfill despite the consequences to my career.

The above has not been a solitary experience. It has been repeated many times since. It occurred most recently when Jennifer Riker - the amazing actor who plays Dr. Jace on the TV series - and I did a panel at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. I was so pleased my friend Jennifer was there to see the impact Black Lightning has on readers and viewers. I daresay that, if the executives at DC Comics, ever had these experiences, they would understand why I fight for this character.

I don’t champion Black Lightning for personal gain, though few in comics understand this. I get why they don’t believe me. We live in very cynical times and, while I do benefit financially from the success of Black Lightning (though nowhere near as much as people assume), that is not my primary consideration in my fight for the integrity of my creation. It’s because I recognized how important he is to all those who see themselves in him.

Reader Will Byron also recognizes the importance of Black Lightning and took action. He is far more humble about what he’s been doing than he should be. I asked and received permission to share the e-mail he sent me.

I hope you are on the mend, sir. I wanted to drop you a line about the use of your character and your stories in some progressive charity work I am a small part of. This is in no way any kind of humblebrag whatsoever especially since I don't advertise a lot of my activist work. This is simply to tell you what a continued contribution YOUR stories are making.

A few months ago, I became aware of the urgent need for reading materials for prisons, mental hospitals and correctional facilities. Understandably, many people are loathe to donate if at all to such places because they worry about rapists and racists and child molesters and such obtaining these materials. Well, I'm happy to report the system is a bit more complex than that, and, when you donate to several places, it only goes to inmates with no hate crimes and so forth and generally to those inmates actively trying to improve their reading, further their educations and build something of themselves.

I was surprised to hear many prisons will accept graphic novels. I just assumed any action scenes or such might be triggers. But, no. They are allowed and welcomed.

My friend Sasha said - I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist - “I just wish there were more comics to send these guys with some values of being altruistic and weren't just violence and continuity."

She said that and it triggered it for me. Values. What creator always stands by the principled values of his hero? I had absent mindedly bought a couple of Shazam! collections, but then it hit me. I had to get Black Lightning stories. I had to get the real Black Lightning stories.

I did. I went on Talesofwonder.com, with whom I’m not affiliated,  and bought copies of Brick City Blues and Cold Dead Hands. Then, I began to ship them out. I recently received some very grateful messages from the librarians affiliated with these facilities. I am happy to pass on their contact info to you if you like.

Many inmates, especially of color, are housed over infractions like having marijuana and have so much going against them. I really don't think it's corny or an understatement to suggest that stories with hope, optimism, and heroism and, yes, core values would be a help to these men and women behind bars. It might make all the difference. After all, they aren't diluted with other forms of entertainment for the most part. In isolation, they have all the time to read, absorb, and reflect.

My friend Greg, who I am gonna tease a bit here- said to me, "Oh yeah, Tony Isabella is gonna be real thrilled that you're sending his guy to prisons."

I said, "I think Tony Isabella WILL. These are going directly to inmates who need inspiration and escapism. How does it look bad?!"


This isn't a submission for inclusion, but if you ever want to share these programs with your other fans, all of these places accept graphic novels and comics. So if any one has beat up TPBs they are thinking of unloading, they could consider donating to these fine places. Just no hardcovers or spiral-bound stuff.

Bedford Hills Correctional Facility
247 Harris Road
Bedford Hills, NY 10508

Books Through Bars
4722 Baltimore Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19143

Western State Hospital Library
9601 Steilacoom Blvd SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

St Martin Parish Correctional Center
PO Box 247
St Martinville, Louisiana 70582
Attn: Warden

I stress not every correctional facility accepts donated books. Some demand they come directly from a publisher. But these ones I have all had success with and I have sent Black Lightning trades paperbacks (Written by you, so it's the REAL Black Lightning.) to these facilities with success.

I don't mean to speak for you, but I wanted to let you know less that I did this and more that the people these collections are reaching are responding to it well and I am gonna continue to do it. You should see a steady spike in Black Lightning TPBs going up, so I hope DC does the right thing and keeps them in print!

I hope this message finds you well and I'm sorry it's so long.


Wow! That was my reaction on reading this e-mail. You can’t imagine how it feels to have a reader react in this way to my work and to know that my work is finding new readers who will, hopefully, learn and be inspired by it.

One of the librarians wrote back to Will. She said his note about values and inspiration is why they work so hard to curate their library system, adding how popular the books are. Her day is made when a young resident finds the courage to reach out and ask her what a word means, thus expanding their vocabulary.

Another librarian told him there's a queue for the Black Lightning collections in their facility, and that's it's the only book she "sees the tenants sit down and pay attention to".

Will added, “I feel your stories have a social consciousness that is important. They are not obvious or preachy. There's still great super-hero escapism there.”

Will doesn’t donate these books to gain recognition. I don’t share his very kind words about my work to toot my own horn. The reason for today’s bloggy thing is to reinforce what most of you already know...

Black Lightning, as DC’s most iconic black super-hero, has touched the hearts, minds and souls of many readers. He deserves always to  be treated with respect and written in a manner consistent with his core values. Period.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Thursday, December 5, 2019

STILL WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU

My health problems took a turn for the worse this week. I was taken to the ER with a crazy high blood sugar level. Which is how I learned I am now a Type 2 Diabetic. I'm responding well to medication and diet changes, but I have little energy. I'll be back as soon as I'm up to it.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

I'M WORKING MY WAY BACK TO YOU

I've had a multitude of health problems this past week. None of them are remotely serious, but, combined, they have drained my energy and left me largely unable to work. I think I'm on the mend and hope to be blogging again in a few days.

Monday, November 25, 2019

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2019 REVIEWS #2

What has gone before:

This is second in a series of columns reviewing the special comics given out by comics retailers for Halloween Comicfest.

Halloween ComicFest...the comic book industry’s premiere fall event – a single day when participating comic book specialty shops across North America and around the world give away specially published comic books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their shops. HCF is the perfect event to experience comic shops as destinations for Halloween and horror-themed comic books, collectibles and other merchandise! In other words, Halloween ComicFest is the Spooky Free Comic Book Day!

These Halloween Comicfest comics were sent to me by my dear friends at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. When I write about these comic books, I look at three areas.

QUALITY: Is the material worthwhile?

ACCESSIBILITY: Is the material presented in such a way that someone coming to it for the first time can follow it?

SALESMANSHIP: After reading the FCBD offering, would someone want and be able to buy more of the same?

I score FCBD offerings on a scale of zero to ten. Each category is worth three points with the tenth point coming from my interest in seeing more of what’s ever in the book.


Let’s get started...

The Loud House Halloween Special [Papercutz/Nickelodeon] is another 16-page digest comic. Based on the cartoon series, it presents a done-on-one 12-page story written by Sammie Crowley with artist Ari Castleton and colorist Gabrielle Dolbey.

QUALITY: “Candy Hunting at Huntington Manor” is a pleasant enough tale, but suffers from a chaotic plot structure. This ties directly into our next category.

ACCESSIBILITY: I know the lead character of The Loud House in the kid in the middle, the only male sibling among the family’s dozen children. That information is not made clear in the story. It isn’t made clear anywhere else in the issue. That lack of clarity extends to the male sibling’s friends. If you don’t watch the cartoon, if you haven’t read previous comics, you won’t know what’s going on in this story.

SALESMANSHIP: The inside back cover lists nine Loud Family graphic albums. If this story tickled your fancy, you’ll be able to acquire more Loud Family comics.

SCORE: Four points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                               

Pokemon Adventures [Viz] is a 16-page digest comic. I’m reviewing  all the digest Halloween ComicFest giveaways first because I’m kind of retentive that way. It’s got a 12-page excerpt from a Pokemon Adventures series which seems based on an animated version of the franchise. The black-and-white story is by Hidenori Kusaka with art by Mato.

QUALITY: Don Thompson used to say “If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this.” I’m stealing my dearly missed friend’s line for this review. Pokemon and most battle-based manga bore the snot out of me. I think Pokemon fans will enjoy this and the manga a whole lot more than I do.

ACCESSIBILITY: I know who two of the story’s characters and one of the creatures are. That’s because I’ve read random issues of these comics and watched an episode here and there. This giveaway doesn’t give me any help.

SALESMANSHIP: The inside front cover directs interested readers to the full graphic album.

SCORE: Four points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                            

Spook House [Albatross Funnybooks] is a 16-page digest comic book with a cover by Eric Powell and three interior stories by William Stout, Powell and artist Gideon Kendall and Powell solo. The very funny tales poke fun at Spider-Man, Stephen King’s IT and the cult classic movie Lost Boys.

QUALITY: Great work from cover to cover. This is my favorite of the Halloween ComicFest comics to date.

ACCESSIBILITY: They are done-in-one stories. If you have even the most basic knowledge of what they spoof, you will have no trouble following and enjoying these tales.

SALESMANSHIP: Terrible. Absolutely no indication of where you can get more material like what’s in this book.

SCORE: Seven points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                             

DC Zoom’s The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid/Black Canary: Ignite is a 32-page digest-size flip book. There’s a 15-page excerpt from the Swamp Kid graphic novel by Kirk Scroggs with a 15-page excerpt of the Black Canary GN by Meg Cabot on the flip side.

QUALITY: The Swamp Kid excerpt is fun and intriguing, especially in the mystery that is its protagonist’s origin. The Black Canary side of the book is readable, but does not shine.

ACCESSIBILITY: Both excerpts are easy to get into and follow. Just don’t try to tie them to the DC Universe continuity, whatever the heck that is these days.

SALESMANSHIP: Very good. Besides ads for the full graphic novels of Swamp Kid and Black Canary, there are ads for the Super Sons series by Ridley Pearson and Dear Justice League by Michael Northop with art by Gustavo Duarte.

SCORE: Nine points out of a possible ten points.
                                                                                

Underdog [American Mythology Productions] is a 16-page digest comic book. It features 12 pages of comics and features, mostly starring classic cartoon character Underdog. Since there’s no information as to the origins of these comics and features, I’m going to consider them new material. If they are reprints, they have held up well.

QUALITY: Definitely fun and quite readable. My favorites were “The Rubber Duck” (Underdog versus an old enemy with new rubber powers) and “Shoeshine Shenanigans” (corny but amusing jokes).

ACCESSIBILITY: Very good. You don’t need back story to enjoy these comics and gags.

SALESMANSHIP: Okay. There’s a page advertising Underdog and other titles from this publisher.

SCORE: Eight points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                                 

Don’t let the less-than-perfect score fool you. Usagi Yojimbo [IDW] is my favorite of the digest-sized Halloween ComicFest books. The lead story is the 10-page “Zylla” by Stan Sakai. The back-up story is the 2-page “Chibi Trick or Treat” by Daniel Fujii with art by Julie Fujii and Stan Sakai.

QUALITY: Top-notch. The lead story has action, humor and a terrific nod to Godzilla. The back-up story is cute and funny. I loved both of them.

ACCESSIBILITY: Excellent. Everything you need to know to enjoy the stories is in the stories.

SALESMANSHIP: Non-existent. There is not a single house ad in this comic book. Not a single mention of where a newcomer can find more of one of the best comic book series ever. It makes me cry.

SCORE: Seven points out of a possible ten points.

That’s it for the digest-size Halloween ComicFest comics. I’ll be back soon with reviews of the traditional sized issues.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

UNIVERSAL YUMS: GREECE

Our second Universal Yums snack box arrived a while back, this time filled with treats from Greece. If you missed my earlier bloggy on Universal Yums, here’s a quick explanation:
 
Every month, Universal Yums sends me a box filled with snacks and candies from a different country. Inside each box is a multi-page booklet with information on the snacks, the nation I’m “visiting” and additional fun and games.

Last month’s box was from Turkey. Universal Yums polled customers on the contents. Best went to the Lush Cocoa Creme Mosaic Cookies, which were mosaic cookies with chocolate cream filling. Chocolate has not been predominant in the region until recently, so this type of snack is just coming into its own in Turkey. I found the cookies to be tasty, but noted we have similar cookies in the United States just as good or better.

Second best was the Ulker Krispi Tirtikli Kraker Baharatli cracker chips, my favorite snacks from the Turkey box. They are seasoned with baharat, a blend of spices that’s insanely popular all across the Middle East. They are crispy and the flavor is wonderful. If I could buy bags of them here in Medina, they’d replace most of the other chips and crackers that show up at Casa Isabella.

For the worst, customers voted for the Toffix Mastic. The nastiest snack in the box, this was a soft chewy candy with flavor derived from the gum-like sap of mastic trees. It tastes like how I imagine jackal ass would taste. Both Barb and I spit out the one bite we took. If I ever have to torture someone to give them information, I will make them eat this candy.

On to the snacks from Greece...
                                                                              

The Oriental Saragli is a “syrupy phyllo dough pastry with almonds and walnuts. It’s one of the many varieties of baklava available in Greece and elsewhere. I found it tasty but very sticky. The kind of treat where you have to turn on the faucet with your elbows to wash your hands afterwards and we’re talking a proper washing, not just running the water over your hands. I liked it, but it isn’t going to be a snack I seek out in the future. There were two of the small pastries in the package. The second one awaits the Isabella fam
ily member who wants to try it.

The package of Kritsinaki basil-pesto-flavored breadsticks was too small. Some might call it “fun size,” but that’s a damn lie. If you like a treat, you’ll have more fun eating more of it...and I liked these crunchy little bread bites a lot. I call them “bites” because they ain’t near long enough to be called “sticks.” Whatever happen to truth in advertising?
                                                                                  
Serenata Finger is “milk chocolate coasted wafer with cocoa cream filling.” Not really different from the wafer treats that we have in the U.S., this pastry was as good as any of our homegrown ones. Four crispy wafers covered in cocoa cream, coated in chocolate and drizzled with more chocolate. Fun fact:

Greece is where wafers were invented. Greeks started cooking them in 146 BC.

“They would pour batter between two hot plates attached to wooden sticks, cook the wafers to perfection, and top them with herbs and cheese.”

Tottis-Bingo created the Serenata wafer in 1970. It quickly became a beloved household name across the country.
                                                                               
Tottis Chips Oregano are simply potato chips paired with oregano. They’re delicious and it’s taking great will power for me to save some of them for my wife and kids.
                                                                                

Moustokouloura are soft wheat cookies with grape must flavor. Must is a thick mixture containing freshly pressed juice, skins, seeds and stems of the grape, usually part of making wine. I thought this would be a winner, but it’s too heavy a cookie for me.
                                                                                 

The Serenata Triple Hazelnut is a milk chocolate coated, hazelnut topped wafer with cream filling. It was delicious and is definitely in the running for my favorite snack of the box.
                                                                              
The Bruschettini Pizza bread crisps are a hit with me. It’s crunchy bead with cheese, tomato and basil seasoning. This is another Greek oldie. Its distant ancestor is Paximadia, the beloved twice-baked bread. Originally made for Greek sailors out to sea before 400 BC, it was such a hit that, by that year, there were over 72 different and unique types of it. These would be great on a salad.
                                                                                 
  
Another hit is the Kings Soft Cookie with Dark Chocolate Chunks. This is made with dark Belgian chocolate with a wisp of salt and vanilla. Universal Yums boasts these are better than any similar product you’d find in a domestic grocery story and specifically call out Pepperidge Farm. It’s been quite a while since I’ve had the latter, but I’m giving my vote to the Greek delight. Of course, if Pepperidge Farms wants to send me a case of cookies, I would be willing to reconsider.
                                                                                   

I only ate two small bites of the Minor Peanut & Honey Nut Bar on account of it was so hard I feared for my teeth. I liked the taste a lot. However, after spending a fortune on dental implants several years back, I opted for caution.
                                                                                         
                                                                     
The Tsourekaki with Cocoa Cream is a traditional Greek sweet bread with incredibly rich chocolate cream filling. It’s a plump pastry that was deceptively light and sweet at first time. Halfway through the bread, it became too heavy with an unpleasant aftertaste to the chocolate cream.
                                                                                

Corn Flake Bread Rings. White and corn bread stick rings with corn flakes. This is Greek street food and it’s delicious. This is the flavor that came in my box, but there are other flavors, including cheese and sesame.
                                                                                

Lemona Potaki. This soft pie with lemon filling is in the running to be my choice for best of the box. If you order a pita in Greece, this is what you get on account of, in Greek, pita means a pie or a pastry. It’s a fairly crumbly pastry, but a combination of sweet and tart that made my mouth happy.
                                                                                  

Elite Mediterranean Crackers. Crackers with feta cheese and oregano flavor. This a nice crunchy cracker. However, I’ve never been a fan of feta cheese. If you are, you’ll like these crackers.
                                                                             

Minos Soft Nougat. Soft nougat with orange and peanut. This tasty bar is the Greek great grandfather of Snickers, Milky, and Three Musketeers. The orange flavor really pops. The peanuts not so much. This is a contender for my best of the box.
                                                                                     

Tottis Sea Salt Chips. Tottis does potato chips right. The family loved the oregano chips mentioned earlier in this blog and the sea salt chips are just as good.
                                                                                     

Serenata Max Croissant with Apricot Filling. Breakfast for Greeks is usually coffee. Just coffee. However, they do have mid-morning snacks like this. The apricot filling was okay, but the croissant surrounding it was not. It left an unpleasant aftertaste after just two bites. I’ll pass.
                                                                               

Every month’s box contains “The Yum Bag” filled with two or three candies with multiples of each. The Greece bag started with Frugeli Pomegranate Jelly (flavored jelly candies) and these were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

That was followed by Kokus Ouzo (Ouzo flavored hard candy). There was a heavy licorice taste to this candy. Not a fan.

The third candy was Kokus Honey Toffee. The honey flavored chew has the consistency of a softer Tootsie Roll. Not awful, but any candy that requires I brush my teeth immediately after eating it is not going to be a winner with me.

It was hard to pick my favorites from this box. After a great deal of deliberation and tasting of leftovers, I went with the Tottis Chips Oregano for first place and the Frugeli Pomegranate Jelly in the runner-up position. My pick for the worst of this box was that Kokus Ouzo hard candy.

When Universal Yums polled their customers, the Frugeli Pomegranate Jelly won “best.” The Serenata Triple Hazelnut was “second best.”  Deemed the worst of the box was the Kokus Ouzo hard candy.

My next Universe Yums box has already arrived, filled with treats from Austria. I’m going to start on that box tomorrow.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella