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




Monday, November 18, 2019

TONY'S TIPS #320

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder: Some comic convention thoughts plus my reviews of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts (recently the bestselling book in America); Mickey Mouse: The Quest for the Missing Memories; and The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television! 
                                                                                
                                                                              

HALLOWEEN COMICFEST 2019 REVIEWS #1

What is Halloween ComicFest? Let’s go to the Halloween Comicfest website for the answer:

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!

Every year, on the last Saturday in October, the industry comes together to give away free comics and encourage both curious, first-time comic book readers and seasoned comic book fans to flock to the best place in the comic book community: local comic shops. Each one is unique in its community, with a style and personality all its own, and each one carries a full line of spooky comics, graphic novels, toys and related products. Local comic shops are the hubs of our community, where fans can come together to discover new comics, make lifelong friends, and find a sense of commonality.
 
I read and reviewed the Free Comic Book Day comic books sent to me by my pals at Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin, New Jersey. I’m going to do the same thing with the Halloween ComicFest free comic books they sent me. As with the FCBD comic books, I will be looking 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...
                                                                                   

Archie’s Madhouse Magic [Archie Comics] is a slightly over 5" by 8" comic book. Sixteen pages in all, it reprints two stories. Sabrina stars in “A Monstrous Halloween” by Bill Golliher with art by Dan DeCarlo and Jon D’Agostino. Archie stars in “Night Spirit” by Frank Doyle with art by Harry Lucey and Chic Stone. It’s a near perfect model of what these giveaways should be: small enough to be tossed in a trick-or-treat bag and suitable for all ages.

QUALITY: The Sabrina story is a funny Halloween party tale with a hilarious ending. The Archie story is more of an adventure story, but also contains humor. I liked them both.

ACCESSIBILITY: Almost every one knows the characters already, but, even if they didn’t, the comics are easy to get into.

SALESMANSHIP: The inside front cover has a ad for several “Archie” trade paperback collections. Except for the Riverdale ones, these are suitable for most ages. Alas, there are few new Archie comics featuring the classic versions of the characters as seen in the two reprints in this giveaway comic.

SCORE: Nine points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                             

Blastoaurus [Golden Apple Books) is another 16-page digest with a 10-page story that relates to the title character but doesn’t focus on him at all.

QUALITY: I liked this year’s Free Comic Book Day issue featuring this character enough to give it ten points. This one literally didn’t do a thing for me.

ACCESSIBILITY: I like that the inside front cover gave a succinct summary of who Blastosaurus is. Alas, it wasn’t useful in terms of this issue’s story.

SALESMANSHIP: No ads for the ongoing Blastosaurus comics, but the inside front cover does mention they exist.

SCORE: Three points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                              

DC Superhero Girls at Metropolis High [DC Comics] is also a 16-page digest. It has a 12-page excerpt from the graphic novel of the same name. The “girls” are late for class because they are doing their “superhero” stuff. As punishment, each of them have to join one of the school’s clubs.

QUALITY: This is written by Amy Wolfram and illustrated by Yancey Labat. Both of them deliver the goods.

ACCESSIBILITY: Just a touch confusing for me. In most stories from this series, the characters are attending a superhero high school. This seems to be of a different continuity. A new reader shouldn’t have any trouble following this excerpt, but they might be thrown if they pick up other books in the series.

SALESMANSHIP: Okay. The inside back cover advertises the Metropolis High graphic novel. The back cover advertises Teen Titans Go! PVC dioramas.

SCORE: Eight points out of a possible ten points.

                                                                              

Just Beyond: The Horror at Happy Landings [kaboom!] is another 16-page digest. It features a 12-page excerpt from the title-mentioned graphic novel. It’s written by bestselling author R.L. Stine with art by Kelly and Nicole Matthews.

Sidebar. My son Ed loved Stine’s Goosebumps books as a kid. Many of his friends did as well. One of my proudest moments was Ed nailing a class assignment to write a short story. He wrote a “Goosebumps” story about a boy whose scientist father turns into a killer plant monster who must be destroyed. This story frightened a little girl in his class so much that, when I came to pick up Ed at the end of the day, the teacher wanted me to assure the girl that it was just a story and I was still alive.

QUALITY: So-so at best. It’s not that Stine’s comic-book writing is awful. It’s just that it’s kind of blah. I liked this one better than others he’s done in recent years, but it seems way too tame. The art is decent, but not spectacular.

ACCESSIBILITY: It’s easy to get into.

SALESMANSHIP: Poor. The inside front cover is just a credits page that could have been done in half the space. There are no ads for the full graphic novel beyond a small blurb at the excerpt’s end.

SCORE: Five points out of a possible ten points.

That’s it for now. I’ll have more Halloween Comicfest reviews for you in the near future.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

NEW BLOGS COMING

It's taking me longer to bounce back from doing back-to-back conventions than I anticipated, but I hope to have some new blogs up by the end of the week.

Monday, November 4, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS COMIC CON (November 8-10)

My final convention appearance of 2019 is Grand Rapids Comic Con. This is also one of my favorite conventions so I’m closing out the year in...ahem...grand fashion. The event takes place Friday thru Sunday, November 8-10, at the DeVos Place, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The convention hours are...

Friday, November 8, 12-7 pm
Saturday, November 9, 10 am-7 pm
Sunday, November 10, 10 am-5 pm

For folks with more lasting power than me, there will be after-hours  programming as late as midnight on Friday and Saturday nights!

Grand Rapids always has in great comics, media, literary, cosplay and YouTube guests. This year’s comics guests include Gail Simone, Heather Antos, Jim Shooter, Christopher Jones, Graham Nolan, David Nakayama, Ty Templeton, Thom Zahler, Dirk Manning, William Messner-Loebs, Robert Pope, Scott Rosema, Golden Age legend Vic Carrabotta and more.

The media guest list is also impressive. Attending the convention: Patrick Warburton, my friend Jennifer Riker (Black Lightning), Tony Todd, Jason Marsden, Greg Weisman, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris Karloff), Ann Robinson (War of the Worlds) and more. There will be guests from Power Rangers, Star Wars, Star Trek, horror, anime and superhero media.

In addition to the guests, Grand Rapids always has cool cosplayers, exciting exhibits and pulse-pounding panels and programming. Did I say “pulse-pounding?” Clearly, I just had a momentary flashback to the years I spending writing copy for Marvel Comics.

I will be doing two panels/presentations this year.

For all the fans who have told me they wished they could have seen my CHEESY MONSTERS RAID AGAIN presentation at this year’s Godzilla-centric G-Fest, your wish is being granted. On Friday, at 3 pm in Grand Gallery E-F, I will be doing an encore presentation of that event. For those who can’t make it to Grand Rapids Comic Con, you will get another chance at an early 2020 convention. If you still can’t make it to that one, fear not. I’m writing a kind of sort of novelization of the panel with an eye towards publishing it early next year. The cheese is strong within me.

Then, on Saturday, at 2:30 pm in Grand Gallery A-C, Jennifer Riker, who plays the deliciously evil Dr. Helga Jace on Black Lightning, and I will discuss my favorite TV show, dance around what you can expect from this gripping current season and talk about Jennifer’s other work. You’ve all heard my routine before. Come to the panel to listen to Jennifer.

When I’m not doing panels, taking breaks, wandering the vendor hall looking for cool stuff or visiting friends at their booths, I will be at my booth.

What will I be selling? I’m bringing these books, some of which are in short supply:

1000 Comic Books You Must Read
Black Lightning Volume One (reprinting my 1970s run)
Black Lightning Volume Two (stories not written by me)
Black Lightning: Brick City Blues (reprinting my 1995 run)
Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands (reprinting my most recent Black Lightning comics from 2017-2018)
July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One (which defies description)

I’m bringing copies of an exclusive-to-me variant edition Marvel’s Greatest Creators: Tony Isabella #1, which reprints the first appearance of Misty Knight in the Iron Fist series. This signed, numbered edition is limited to 1000 copies.

I’ll have Black Lightning pins from Fansets. The pins cost $6 each  and my supply is limited.

Posters? I’ll have a number of different posters and mini-posters: Black Lightning (three different posters), Daredevil, Hawkman, Luke Cage and a Misty Knight/Tigra team-up.

I’ll sign any item purchased from me at no additional charge. I’m happy to sign any Tony Isabella or Tony Isabella-related items not purchased from me for a nominal fee of $5 per signature. That goes up to $10 per item if you’re having my signature witnessed by any grading company representative.

Cosplayers? If you’re cosplaying as a character I created or that I’ve written, please stop by my booth. With your permission, I’d love to take your photo for use in my blog and other online venues.

Photos with me? I’m happy to pose with you or for you. There is no charge for these photos.

Interviews? Depending on how busy I am at the convention, I’ll do my level best to make time to talk with you for your print/online articles or your podcasts. However, at this point, I'm working the event by myself and might not be able to accommodate you.

Are you an editor, publisher or filmmaker who would like to hire me for a project? We probably won’t be able to take a long-ish meeting during show hours, but I’ll do my best to accommodate you. Failing that, you can always contact me via e-mail.

Two more things.

Don’t be shy about asking me questions. Non-disclosure agreements mean there are questions I can’t answer, but I’ll try to give you answers to all other questions.

Should you ever feel threatened/uncomfortable at this or any other convention, know that my booth will always be a safe spot for you. You can hang with me until we can talk to con personnel able to help you with whatever and whoever is causing your concern.

I’m truly looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at this wonderful convention. If you want more information on all Grand Rapids Comic Con has to offer, visit its website.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

Friday, November 1, 2019

TONY'S TIPS #319

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...The secret origin of how Tony Isabella was hired by Marvel plus reviews of Marvel Visionaries: Roy Thomas, Aki Irie’s Go with the clouds, North-by-Northwest 2 and the (sob) final issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up!
                                                                                
                                                                              

Thursday, October 31, 2019

KNOXVILLE FANBOY EXPO PART TWO

What Has Gone Before:

I’m in Knoxville, Tennessee for Fanboy Expo 2.0. It’s nearly 5 pm on Friday night and the event is about to open.

Occupying the location of the US Pavilion of the 1982 World's Fair, the Knoxville Convention Center is 500,000 square feet with 120,000 square feet of exhibit space. It’s an enormous and mostly very well maintained facility. Some of the restrooms did leave something to be desired, but others were fine.

Fanboy Expo 2.0 was only using a third of its summer event space, but that was still an enormous area. My booth was across from the Charles Bond Comics tables with lots of great old comics and very reasonably-priced hardcovers and trades. Charles and I have known each other for years and it was great to catch up with him. Kudos also to Jimmy, his assistant at the show, who always kept the comics conversation flowing.

Just before the show opened, a bulky, squirrel-y looking character walked close to my booth, which, as you probably figured out, had a great deal of Black Lightning material on sale. Posters, pins and trade paperbacks. He stopped in front of my table and...

...flashed a white power symbol at me.
                                                                               

I realize some dispute the “okay” hand symbol is a racist symbol. In this case, there was no mistaking the intent of this individual or the terrified look on his face when he realized I knew exactly what he was doing. I shot him an angry look and he scurried away. I didn’t see him again that weekend. 

Everyone else I met in Knoxville, whether they were associated with the convention or working at the hotel, were wonderful, welcoming  people. I didn’t let this one guy occupy my brain for more than it took to write about the above incident.

These Friday night previews are interesting. Sometimes they set the tone for the convention. Other times they reveal nothing about what to expect on Saturday and Sunday. If a promoter asks me to do them, I do them.
                                                                                   

My sales at my table were about what I expected. My biggest seller was Marvel’s Greatest Creators: Tony Isabella #1, reprinting the first appearance of Misty Knight. This is an exclusive variant that is only available from me. It’s signed and number and the print run was 1000 copies. I sell them for $10 each. I brought ten copies. I had sold them all before noon on Saturday.

I do charge a modest $5 per item for my signature. (I sign comics and other items purchased from me for free.) Over the weekend, the signatures amounted to 52% of my take for the convention. In case you were wondering why I charge for signatures.

Besides people telling me how much love Black Lightning and the TV series, I think the line I heard most often was:

“Tony Isabella? I read some of your comics when I was young!”

Tempering the anguish of being so freaking old, I was delighted by how many fans, including many not born when I was writing comics in the 1970s, said they felt my stories hold up as well today as they must have when first published. I have always given everything I had to every assignment I’ve taken. It pleases me to know all of that hard work was worth it.
                                                                                     

One of my all-time favorite convention vendors was at Fanboy Expo 2.0: Wild Bill’s Olde Fashioned Soda Company. I’ve enjoyed their root beer at many conventions, but the mix was off at the last one I attended. The heavenly brew was back to its usual incredible at this convention. I bought a mini-mug with free refills.

Were there legendary burps? There were.

I’m cutting today’s bloggy thing short so I can spend time with my Saintly Wife Barb. I will be back tomorrow with a brief interlude to this report. I hope you’ll be entertained and intrigued by what I’ll be writing about. See you then.

© 2019 Tony Isabella