Thursday, February 28, 2019

TONY GOES TO FREELAND: CONCLUSION

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing:

I flew to Atlanta/Freeland to attend the Black Lightning season two wrap party and to spend two days on the set during the final week of shooting for that season. I’ve been writing about the trip, but, as I commence this final installment of my report, I’m heading back to my home in Medina, Ohio and thinking of the conversation that I had during my final hours on the set...

Wednesday morning. I had a good night’s sleep after my twelve-plus hours on the set on the day and night before. I woke up feeling fine, sad that I was leaving all my friends on the set, but happy to be returning home to my family.

The Lyft driver who picked me up for the ride to the airport turned out be a fledgling actor and model. He was the manager of his four-year-old daughter, who was already doing some modeling. We chatted. He was thrilled to learn I was the creator of Black Lightning. When we got to the airport, he asked for my autograph.

The Atlanta airport was crowded. I had hours to kill before I could board my flight home. I had intended to buy a day pass to the Delta Sky Club, figuring I could eat breakfast there and relax. Much to my disappointment, Delta has changed its operation and only accepts the Delta American Express card. They don’t even take cash. Seems like an odd policy to me.

The airport TGIF was more receptive. I asked the hostess if I could get a table in the back and hang for a couple hours. The restaurant accommodated me, earning my server a very good tip. It was during my hours there that I started thinking about my comics career. Mostly that it may be over.

When I began this series of blogs about my trip - a report delayed by circumstances to a ridiculous extent - I started it with these two paragraphs:

If it doesn’t get any better than right this minute, if I never get to write another Black Lightning comics story or any other comics story, if I never again stand in front of an audience to speak of the character and work that has defined my career, if I never again visit the home city of Jefferson Pierce and his family, if this is it, the finale, the slow walk away from the things I love about the comics industry, then, you know, it’s okay.

I’ve had success other comics creators dream of achieving. I have created iconic characters that entertain and inspire. I’ve written great stories and worked with great artists. I’ve seen my proudest creation turned into an amazing hit television series by actors and crew members and directors and producers and writers who embraced my vision for that creation.


What prompted those somewhat gloomy paragraphs was a conversation I had on set with...forgive me, but, for my own reasons, I’m going to keep the identity of the person to myself. The individual asked me when my next Black Lightning comics series would be coming out. I had been dreading this question the entire time I was in Atlanta because I didn’t have a happy answer for it.

I responded that, though I pitched several Black Lightning projects to DC, including one set in the show’s universe, DC had passed on all of them. Against my strong objection, DC intended to reduce my creation, a headliner and the star of a hit TV series, to Batman’s support Negro in Batman and the Outsiders. Despite my explaining it to DC, the powers there could not grasp how insulting that is to the character, to the many people to whom the character is so important and, lastly, to the character’s creator. Because why not ignore the many millions of viewers who watch the TV series for the sheer nostalgic value of revisiting a concept from the 1980s?

I added I had also pitched a graphic novel and a new take on a currently benched super-hero. Those were also rejected by DC. Nor was I given any indication that DC wanted to work with me on future projects. DC seems to have kicked me to the curb.

I added that there were no projects from other comics publishers on my horizon. Apparently, it is lost on publishers that comic books written by me could include the header “From the creator of Black Lightning.”

This conversation made me sad. I said I might have to accept that my comics shelf life had expired. I could write books, of course. Not best sellers, perhaps, but fun and interesting books. I could, despite my frightening lack of business acumen, try to self-publish comics in print or online. I could continue speaking at libraries and schools. I could continue going to conventions, most of which will pay me an appearance fee. But I could not do the things I loved most: writing comics and, more specifically, writing new Black Lightning stories until the day I die.

The person with whom I was speaking had an expression of disbelief on their face. I had created so many iconic characters, they said. I had written great stories. Several of my creations were appearing in cartoons, movies and TV shows. What was wrong with DC and other comics publishers? 
 
All I could manage in response was a line I have used many times in the past. 
 
Forget it, Jake, it’s Comicstown.

The comics industry has never truly made sense to me throughout my 46 years in the business. It would be foolishly optimistic for me to think it will suddenly start making sense.

My career has become bipolar. I get amazing love and respect from the Black Lightning series, as well as from others working in the entertainment field. The same from TV news programs that interview me...and from most of my fellow comics professionals...and from the fans...and from many conventions. Libraries and schools love having me as a speaker. Yet, when it comes to the actual comics industry, it’s the sound of crickets. Quiet crickets at that.

I think I know some reasons for the comics industry disinterest in me. I’m good for one and maybe two great comic books a month. The big companies like writers who can write six or seven books a month for them, even if those books are substandard. Which is not to say all comics by prolific writers are substandard. Some are excellent. I’ll point to former Cleveland resident Brian Michael Bendis as an example of the latter.

I’m not fond of crossovers and other comics stunts. They’ve become tiresome over the decades. I’ve not been shy about expressing this opinion in my various columns.

I’ve committed to discussing the comics industry with honesty and integrity. The bullshit, whether from corporations or creators or sleazy gossip-mongering dingle berries, serves no purpose in either improving or promoting our art form.

I’m not a West Coast guy and I’m not an East Coast guy. There’s an entire country between Los Angeles and New York City. This country is often ignored by the powers at the big companies.

With continuity changing every year at the big companies, I admit I can’t keep up with it. It’s why my submissions generally work the corners of the shared universes. A reboot of the Creeper. A comic starring the Mole Man. To work in the mainstream continuities, I would need a patient editor willing to explain that continuity to me.

That I may not write any more comic books depresses me more than I can express. There are doubtless some who will be gleeful at this situation. The Internet and our current dumpster president do bring out the worst in people.

I do take some comfort in knowing, as stated above, that if this is all I get, it’s still more than many comics creators have gotten. It’s certainly more than the online naysayers have ever achieved. Maybe now I will get the chance to read all the books and comics I own that I haven’t read. Maybe now I’ll watch all those DVDs I own that I have never watched. Good lord, do I really own all those shark movies? I need a bigger house.

I’m grateful for the blessings in my life. For the unfailing love and support from my family, friends and readers. If I walk away, I won’t be tossing my costume in the trash. I’ll hold on it to remind myself of the great experiences I’ve had, most certainly including my days on the Black Lightning set. At the end of the day, I have had and have a good life.

Thanks for coming with me on this journey. Whenever it may lead and however long it continues, I hope you’ll continue to join me on it. You’re the Crosby and Lamour to my Hope.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

           

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

TONY GOES TO FREELAND: PART FOUR

Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing:

I flew to Atlanta/Freeland to attend the Black Lightning season two wrap party. That was Saturday, January 5. Sunday was a day or rest. previous installments of this series. Sunday was a day of rest for On Monday, I went to the studio where Black Lightning is filmed for an exciting, educational and very long day on the set. You know all about that because you’ve been faithfully reading my bloggy thing reports on this trip. We continue...

Tuesday morning did not get off to the greatest of starts. I passed on the hotel’s breakfast buffet, figuring I could grab juice and a doughnut on the set. That was a good choice. I wanted to get to the set as early as possible.

Atlanta weather didn’t cooperate. Maybe it was the rain, but I was unable to get a connection to Lyft. I asked the hotel clerk to call a taxi for me. Though the cab companies were having communication problems as well, she did manage to get me one. The cost was twice what the Lyft would have cost me.

There were three scenes scheduled to be filmed, but I had time to kill before that would happen. I wandered towards the back lot to see the faux storefronts. I was recognized by the set designer - as I mentioned yesterday, the crew were told I would be visiting the set - and he asked if I would mind visiting the construction area. Some of his crew members were comics fans and they had brought some comics I’d written hoping to get them signed.

It’s hard for me to describe how I felt as all these hard-working craftsmen thanked me for creating Black Lightning and thus giving them jobs. Whether they read comic books or not, everyone who works on the series gives it their all.

I got a tour of the construction area, which is enormous, and the back lot. The Vampire Diaries had also been filmed there. One crew chief asked me if I wanted a job as a painter. They were rushing to meet a deadline.

You want to talk deadlines? The crew was building a set that would be filmed on that very evening. The set is extremely cool, but if I told you about it, I would be ruining a key part of the finale. Indeed, I’m not going to be able to tell you much about any of the scenes that were being filmed that day.

Sidebar. This was the last week of shooting for the second season. Several crew members were wondering about their next gig. But not all of them. Some would be moving to a studio across town for the filming of the Stargirl series, featuring the character created by Geoff Johns. I assume Geoff will be involved in the new show even beyond his role as an executive producer. I told the crew that he’s a swell guy and they should say “hi” to him from me. If you’ve been following this blog over the past few years, you know it was Geoff who reached out to me and made possible my mostly happy reconciliation with DC Comics. End of sidebar.

It’s hard to pick just one “greatest moment” from my visit to the Black Lightning set, but getting to wear the Black Lightning vest is way up there. This vest was originally worn by Cress Williams in the earliest episodes, but was soon replaced with one that fit his heroic frame much better.

This vest is now used by the stand-in for lightning purposes. There are two switches that allow the vest to light up. However, the show does digitally enhance the vest’s lighting before the episodes are aired. You get more zap for your buck with this show.

The pod is one of two (soon to be three) in Gambi’s Lightning Lair beneath his tailor shop. When my friend Neil Ottenstein saw me in this photo, he described it as the “Tony Isabella action figure in its original packaging.” When I joked that I was joining the cast in the third season, another pal dubbed me “Short Circuit”...which would be cruel if it weren’t also hilarious.

There were three scenes filmed. The one that took the longest was a fight involving Black Lightning, Lightning and Tobias Whale. I’m not going to tell you about it - no spoilers here - but it’s going to be awesome when it airs.
                                                                          

During one of the resets, China Anne McClain saw me, squealed with delighted, came over and hugged me. That’s right. I got hugged by a super-hero.

This was the first time I’d seen her in her suit. She looked great. She liked my “Pop’s Barber Shop” shirt - from Luke Cage - and was surprised to learn I had also created Misty Knight. She told me I was even cooler than she knew.

This is the kind of love and respect I got from everyone working on Black Lightning. Cress came over to say hi. I spent a lot of time with Marvin Jones. I was introduced to Bill Duke. Christine Adams came over to say hi and tell me she would be rehearsing a special scene with Jennifer Riker that day; she was disappointed I wouldn’t be there when they filmed the scene on Wednesday. Today was going to be my last day on the set.

I talked comics with Jordan Calloway. I talked with writer/director Oz Scott about one of the characters they hadn’t quite figured out completely and let him know anyone on the show could always contact me if they had any comics-related questions. I met and spoke to a couple dozen members of the crew. I have seldom seen such a large group of people who were so committed to the work and each other. They had each other’s backs and that was a beautiful thing for me to experience.
                                                                                

I had lunch that day with Jordan, Marvin and the amazing Bill Duke. We talked basketball. We talked about Agent Odell, the character played by Duke on the series. We talked about the comics industry. We talked about lynchings and other atrocities committed against  even after the Civil War, with Bill recommending a book - Without Sanctuary - that I bought and read. I could only read a few pages of it a day. It’s horrific, but also part of our history we dare not forget.

Mara Brock Akil joined us on the set as the afore-mentioned fight scene was being finished. She had an idea for a development for the next season of the series. Though there had been no announcement of the third season at that time, everyone on the set seemed confident that there would be another season.

When Salim seemed less than enthused by Mara’s idea, she turned to me and Jamon Brown, saying “let’s ask some writers.” Much to Mara’s (and my) delight, I fleshed out the idea in a matter of minutes. I don’t know what Salim thought about this, but I will be writing it up and sending it to Mara.

Mara also asked me if watching everyone work had stripped the magic from the show for me. I told it had only increased my admiration. I don’t know how they manage to do such great work day in and day out. My sense of wonder remains intact.

The final two scenes would be filmed in another building across the way from the building we’d been shooting it. It took maybe fifteen minutes for them to move all the equipment and craft services over to the second building. I was mightily impressed.

The first of the two remaining scenes was a silent scene with Agent Odell. But who needs words when you have the marvelous command of Bill Duke? His expressions were downright unnerving and that’s all I can tell you about the scene without giving away some cool stuff in the finale.

The final scene for the day’s shooting featured Tobias Whale. It’s another scene I can’t tell you anything about it, save that it was shot on the just-build set I mentioned earlier.

There had been talk about my doing a cameo, but that final scene of the day was the only one with extras and I was about as wrong for one of those parts as a human being could be. If I get to the set as often as I would like next season, I’ll almost certainly get a cameo. Heck, some of the folks think I should get a speaking part. Hmm...where does Grace (Chantal Thuy) buy her comic books?

I had a conversation with Mara before we finished for the day. I told Mara I would write up her idea and send to her. Along with another take on it that wouldn’t be part of Black Lightning. She told me she loved my creativity and spirit and asked to take a selfie with me. I was flying.

I had a conversation with someone else that was more serious. I’ll talk about that conversation in the concluding chapter of the report on my visit to Atlanta and the Black Lightning set.

I’ll be back soon with that finale.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

I'LL RETURN IN MARCH

Some quick updates:

I'm very excited about returning to Pensacon for my fourth year in a row. Be sure to check out my previous bloggy thing for the skinny on that fantastic event. I'm spending today and tomorrow getting ready for what I know will be a fun weekend.

Full-size bloggy things will return on or about March 1. It's no secret I've been struggling with stuff for the past few months. I am dealing with a variety of issues, which include incredible anger at the Dumpster President and his vile followers, more than a few concerns/hassles with the comic-book  industry, and a couple personal matters. 

Don't fret. I'll get it all sorted out. I always do.

I am making some changes to my schedule in the hopes of getting myself and my life on a more even keel. I'm not canceling any convention or other appearances. Indeed, I'll be adding some events very soon. 

Things like interviews and podcasts are on the back burner for now. I'm committed to doing some of these in March. 

I have all sorts of "odds and ends" to handle over the next few weeks. These are things I want to get off my "to do list" by the end of March, clearing the decks for new projects. Whatever those projects turn out to be.

If you're waiting on something from me, I'll try to contact you either before I leave for Pensacon or shortly after my return from Pensacon.

If you want to contact me about anything, the best way to do so is via e-mail. Not via Facebook or Twitter or even comments to this blog. E-mail me. It helps me keep track of stuff.

Thanks for your continued patience and support. Always forward.

Tony Isabella

Sunday, February 17, 2019

PENSACON: PENSACOLA COMIC CON 2019

I’m so excited! My next convention appearance is Pensacon, one of my favorite annual events and also one of the best-run shows in the country. This will be my fourth year in a row and, this year, I’ll be accompanied by my son Eddie. One of the great joys of my current “fame” is that I get to share the best parts of my career with my family. Because any success I’ve achieved is due in no small part to their love, patience and support.

Pensacon runs from Friday, February 22 (starting at 1 pm) through Sunday, February 24 (ending at 6 pm). Spread out over the Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacola Grand Hotel, Rex Theatre, Pensacola Little Theatre and the Saenger Theatre, the convention features a terrific roster of guests, events, gaming, cosplay and much more. Here’s the Pensacon mission statement:

To create the best multi-genre convention that is unique to the Pensacola community and that is a safe and welcoming environment for all types of fans.
 
Pensacon has an equally lofty vision statement:

Pensacon strives to be all inclusive by seeking out popular artists, actors, writers, and creators that all contribute to their respective fandom and allow fans to interact with them as well as to create events that cater to all types of fans. Pensacon creates a safe environment for all types of fandom to express themselves, free from bullying or harassment. Pensacon provides a place for fans to form a community in which they have the best experience possible. Pensacon endeavors to be a unique event in Pensacola by reaching out to the local community to create an environment that we would never be able to achieve by ourselves.

If you’ll pardon me continuing in this vein as a prelude to writing about the event itself, Pensacon’s values could be a model for all such conventions:

Pensacon was created with the idea of making a convention where people of all types of fandoms can enjoy interacting with popular representatives of those fandoms and with each other. As such, we are guided by a set of principles in every decision we make.

Pensacon will create a safe, fun, and welcoming environment for all types of fandoms.

Pensacon has a strict non-discrimination policy regarding gender, sexual identity, age, race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, physical appearance, veteran status, or interest in any specific fandom.

Pensacon will act with integrity and honor in all manners of business with guests, vendors, sponsors, attendees, venues, partners, and community at large.

Pensacon will promote a sense of community in Pensacola and foster open and honest communication between all guests, citizens, and businesses.

Pensacon will always abide by all federal, state, and local laws.

Pensacon expects anyone representing Pensacon, be they staff, volunteers, vendors, sponsors, or venues to abide by these values.
 
One of the things I love most about Pensacon is the way the city takes part in the event. When you land at the airport, you’ll find the “gates” are now “stargates” and there are dozens of images and quotes from comics and science fiction on the walls. Several restaurants will adopt genre themes during the weekend. In previous years, that has included super-heroes, super-villains, Star Wars, Game of Thrones and others.

The guest list is so large that I couldn’t possibly list everyone  who will be at Pensacon. In fact, when I started making a list of just some of the guests, I realized even that truncated list would run to several dozen names. There are over 150 guests from comics, movies, television, cartoons, fantasy, science fiction, wrestling, cosplay and more. The only thing making me sad about this amazing list of people is that my being behind my guest table and appearing on a number of panels will prevent me from meeting and spending time with most of them.

Pensacon has a great program of panels, games and movies. It has an amazing team of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. It has a huge vendors area featuring all sorts of cool collectibles. The convention also offers after hours events. I get dizzy thinking about all the things I want to do and maybe a little depressed when I realize I won’t have time to do them all. But it won’t be for lack of trying.

I’m scheduled to appear on four panels over the weekend. Here’s the skinny on them:

FRIDAY

Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements as Reflected in Comic Books


4-4:45 PM

Grand Hotel 1st Floor Room C

Artists and writers create art that is a reflection of the world and the times that they lived through. We will examine comic books that were created during the civil rights movements, the stonewall riots, World War I and II, and countless other periods of strife in the world in an effort to see how these periods and movements were represented in the pages of our comics. We will pay particular attention to the Civil Rights movement, the women's movement, and LGBTQIA fight for equality and how they have been represented.

The panel is run by Thomas Strange, Mike Manning, Thomas Boucher and Joshua Opper from Outside the Long Box. I’ll be appearing with Kevin Grevioux of comics and other media fame. It’s been too long since I’ve had a chance to sit down with my friend Kevin.

SATURDAY

Marvel Monster Comics


2:45-3:30 PM

Grand Hotel 1st Floor Room C

Join Tony Isabella and stellar artist Mark Maddox as they take a look at monsters published by Marvel Comics in the late 1950s and the 1960s.

[I’m putting together the scans for this presentation even as you read today’s bloggy thing. I’m especially pleased to be able to cut through the less-than-accurate conventional history and talk about the instrumental roles Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby and others played in this monstrously fun era of Marvel Comics.]

SUNDAY

Writing for Comic Books


2:45-3:30 PM

Saenger Theatre 2nd Floor Room A

How does one write for comic books? Join this panel of professional comic book writers as they discuss their craft and careers.

Guests: Tony Isabella, Barry Gregory, Kevin Grevioux, Steve Horton, Ande Parks

Attack of the Cheese Monsters

5:15-6:00 PM

Grand Hotel 1st Floor Room B

What’s your favorite cheesy movie? Our panelists will discuss their favorites, digging into the past with classic bad sci-fi flicks. Hosted by Anthony Taylor, the panel includes yours truly, Mark Maddox and artist Mitch Byrd.

I’ll be spending much of my non-panel time at my table. Pensacon’s “Artist Alley” is on the top floor of the Pensacola Bay Center. From there, you can see the vendors area on the main floor. Just outside the Artist Alley is a very nice food court filled with all sorts of stuff to eat and drink. I have a vague memory there were also some food trucks outside the Bay Center last year.

Because I’m flying to Pensacon, I’m limited in what I can bring to sell. The Isabella items will likely include Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, Black Lightning, Black Lightning Volume Two, July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella and an assortment of posters and prints. If I can get to Mail Boxes Etc. before I leave for Florida, I'll also have copies of my script for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1. I do charge for my signature, but I think my prices are very reasonable:

Any items purchased from me: no charge.

All other items: $5 each.

Items signed in front of a grading company witness: $10 each.

Photos are free.


If you’re cosplaying at Pensacon, especially if you’re cosplaying as a character I created or wrote, please stop by my table so I can get a photo with you for my blog, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed and just to show my family and friends the cool people I hang out with at conventions.

If you want to interview me at Pensacon, I’ll do my level best to accommodate you.

That’s all I got for this Pensacon preview bloggy thing. For more, go to the Pensacon website.

In other news...

I’ve been going through some stuff this year, none of it anything you should be concerned about. However, it has put me off my bloggy thing game. I hope I’ll be able to resume regular blogging in the very near future. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and your many messages of love, respect and support. Comic books ain’t a game for the weak, but it’s my fans and friends who have always kept me going. You’re the best!

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Monday, February 11, 2019

TONY'S TIPS #292

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...The Unknown Anti-War Comics, edited by Craig Yoe and featuring comics by Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Denny O’Neil and more; The Con Artist, a murder mystery by Fred Van Lente that's set at Comic-Con; and Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia by Frédéric Maupomé with art by Dawid: http://blog.talesofwonder.com/?p=1361