TONY’S TIPS #298

I love comics. I love making comics. I love reading comics. I love talking about comics. Every now and then, someone asks me to talk about comics somewhere other than at a convention or online. Like the “Coffee and Comics” storytelling workshop I’ll be doing for the Ohio Center for the Book in conjunction with the Cleveland Public Library. It happens on Saturday, April 27, 10:00-11:30 am at the Rising Star Coffee Roastery, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.

Comics are a visual medium. A comics writer must know how to write a script for an artist and the artist has to know how to turn that script into art that carries the story through however many panels and pages said story requires.

Writers have to think visually and recognize what an artist can and cannot fit into a panel or a page. That often means killing one’s darlings to keep the story moving. Artists have to think about the story as well. It’s not enough to draw great pictures. Those images have to keep the story moving.  Whether you’re a writer or artist, telling the story is job one.

For this workshop, I’m going to provide my “students” with random script pages for comics stories in various genres. At the moment, I plan to write pages for a super-hero story, a horror story and a romance/slice-of-life story.

While I answer questions about comics storytelling, the artists in the class will be asked to rough out a page layout. I don’t expect anyone to finish penciling a page in an hour-and-a-half, but that rough layout should be doable. Of course, where this workshop gets more interesting is what happens next. Which I’ll reveal after this  week’s reviews…

This is not the kind of book I would normally review here. It does not have much to do with comics. However, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick [Hanover Square Press; $26.99] speaks to me on so many levels that I’m making an exception.

Milicent Patrick was the woman who designed the Creature from the Black Lagoon, who is not only my favorite of the classic Universal monsters but one of my favorite monsters of all. Horror movie maker O’Meara was inspired by the Creature and, later in her life, by her discovery that a woman was behind the design of the so alien and so human Gill-Man. It inspired her in her own career and it inspired her to learn more about the woman who’d been virtually erased from the history of horror movies.

Patrick was an artist, an actress, a designer, a model and so many things. She was a troubled free spirit and so stunningly beautiful that many reporters and researches made her beauty the story. She was sent on a tour to promote The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Part of the tour agreement was that she not claim credit for her work and instead praise department head Bud Westmore, who was one horrible human being. Jealous of Patrick’s fame and talented, the despicable Westmore fired her when she returned from the tour. He also got his brother drunk in order to steal a job from him. Not a good man, but I don’t want to make him the story.

Patrick was amazing in every aspect of her life, including, sadly, her inability to overcome a family that considered her little more than a whore. Then and now, that’s the go-to for diminishing an accomplished woman. I certainly relate to her story, albeit in ways I’m not yet comfortable writing about.

What I am comfortable writing about is that attempt to erase her. Because it’s common to the comics industry as well. Creators are an inconvenient truth for publishers, editors and even those who write about comics. There are those who try to ignore how much the Black Panther movie owes to writer Don McGregor. For decades, DC Comics went along with the diminishing of Batman co-creator Bill Finger. It’s a comics industry cancer that has been going on since the dawn of the industry.

In her role as biographical detective, O’Meara does an incredible job of uncovering Patrick’s story and making it real for readers. There are sections that brought me to tears. Though I got the book through my local library system, I ended up buying a copy to add to my own home library. I love it that much.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is my pick of the week. I recommend it to fans of the Creature, students of horror films, supporters of the enormous contributions women and other outsiders have brought to the cinematic and comics arts. We have to remember these great creators, past and present and future.

ISBN 978-1-335-93780-3

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Giant Days 9

As with previous collections of the title, Giant Days Volume Nine by John Allison and Max Sarin [BOOM! Box; $14.99] was another fun visit with BFFs Esther, Daisy and Susan as they finish their second year of college. I enjoy the characters and how their lives combine comedy drama in roughly equal measures. The stories and adventures contained within are funny, to be sure, but there are also moments of heartbreak and doubt. Even when things get a bit slapstick, the stories feel real. I’m not surprised many consider Giant Days one of the best, if not the best, comics available today.

Other than my usual recommendation that you should try Giant Days if you’re not already reading it, I have nothing to add that I can add without spoiling some delicious moments for you. This volume reprints issues #33-36 of the series. The next volume, which will collect issues #37-40, is due in June. I’ll be waiting as eagerly for that volume as I did this volume.

ISBN 978-1-86415-310-7

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Hinamatsuri

I’m having a blast seeking out odd manga series to sample, though I recognize these are only odd from my American perspective. Even our slice-of-life graphic novels tend to be similar while Japanese creators go all over the spectrum.

Masao Ohtake’s Hinamatsuri Volume 1 [One Peace Books; $11.95] tells of an ambitious young yazuka member whose life is upended when an oval-shaped object falls into his apartment and “hatches” a young girl with psychic powers. Nitta suddenly finds himself as a father figure to the strange young lady while being driven to exasperation by how little she understands or fits into our world. On the other hand, Hina’s use and frequent misuse of her powers help him rise to higher position in the crime syndicate.

I’d describe Hinamatsuri as “dark humor lite.” The reality of the yakuza and their crimes is soft-pedaled with Nitta coming off as a struggling salaryman. I’m not entirely on board with this series, but enjoyed this first volume enough to keep reading it for now. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might enjoy it as well. The second volume is out with the third volume coming in June.

ISBN 978-1-64273-005-0

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Continuing from this week’s opening…

Members of the workshop will be encouraged to e-mail their finished pages to me. I’ll be going over every “submission” with the intent of hiring one of these artists to draw an eight-page story for me. I don’t know where the completed story will appear, but the artist I choose will be paid the admittedly low rate of $50 a page for the work. I’ll retain all rights to the work, but that initial $50 page rate will be considered an advance against any future money earned by the completed story. If you come to my workshop and do the work, you could end up as a published artist.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #297

April is here and I have two scheduled appearances this month. The first one is the Great Philadelphia Comic Con, April 12-14, at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Avenue, Oaks, PA. If you go to the convention’s website, it lists over two dozen comics industry guests, including Neal Adams, Don McGregor and Larry Hama. It also lists over three dozen media guests, including John Wesley Shipp, Alice Cooper and Rose McIver. Plus cosplay, gaming, and much more. It looks to be a spectacular event, made even more so because my Saintly Wife Barb will be attending with me. Best of all, there is no added admission price to see the world’s most patient woman, a wonderful person who has been married to me for just short of 35 years without strangling me.

I’ll tell you about my second April appearance on the other side of this week’s reviews…

Man and Superman 100-Page Super Spectacular by Marv Wolfman with artist Claudio Castellini [DC Comics; $9.99] is the best Superman story I’ve read in decades. Originally written over ten years ago for the defunct Superman Confidential title, it’s an epic retelling of Clark Kent’s first weeks in Metropolis.

I don’t use the term “epic” lightly. While Man and Superman might not have a cosmic catastrophe at its core – and I’m so very weary of those from both DC and Marvel – it gives us a super-hero who has justifiable doubts about his dual roles in the world, who overcomes those doubts and emerges as the hero who will soon become known as the world’s greatest super-hero. It’s an incredible Superman story, one that doesn’t rely on dozens of other heroes, that doesn’t need  to crossover with twenty other issues. It stands alone. Few things would be make me happier with DC and Marvel comic books that more adventures like this one.

Wolfman’s writing is some of his best. I’d compare it to his run on Tomb of Dracula or the first years of The New Teen Titans. Yes, he is a dear friend of mine, but he knows as well as anyone that does not influence my reviews in the slightest. He’s as good as he ever was, which says a lot for a fifty-plus-year career.

Castellini’s art is eye-catching where it needs to be and down to earth for the human drama.  The color art by Hi-Fi works with the story and art, never overwhelming it. The Tom Orzechowski lettering is right up there as well. Yes, Tom is also a dear pal and someone I hired when I was a Marvel editor. I have a lot of friends in this business. Thankfully, most of them are amazing at what they do. It keeps our too-rare meetings from becoming awkward.

Man and Superman is my pick of the week in a competitive week. It’s rated “T” for teen, but I’d have no problem giving it to a younger reader. It’s a terrific comic book.

NOTE: Before anyone sees a slight where there is none, I have not yet read the various Superman comic books written by Brian Michael Bendis. I plan on binge-reading them this summer.

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Friendly Neighborhood

Marvel Comics seems to roll out a new Spider-Man title every month. Not all or even most of them are to my liking. That said, I really enjoyed Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 [$4.99] and #2 [$3.99]. The key element in my enjoyment is in the title:

Neighborhood.

I’m not kidding when I say I’m increasingly bored by cosmic battles and crossover overload. What won me over to this new Spidey title is that, even with some fairly odd goings-on, it has the feel of a down-to-earth super-hero title.

Written by Tom Taylor, whose efforts on DC’s Injustice and Marvel’s All-New Wolverine were first-rate, the title gives me a Spidey and a Peter Parker to whom I can relate. In both identities, our man is a good neighbor. His day-to-day civilian problems aren’t over the top, at least not for the Marvel Universe. I mean, I’m not sure why he has Boomerang for a roommate, given that said villain has been a cold-blooded assassin for pretty much his entire comics history, but I’ll give Taylor some rope here.

Artist Juann Cabal’s provides some lively visuals throughout these issues. Despite having seen a great many double-page shots of Spidey swinging among the skyscrapers, I was very impressed by Cabal’s version of that well-worn image. Kudos also to color artist Nolan Woodward and letterer Travis Lanham.

The basic fun atmosphere of the book still allows for some fairly heavy human drama. A back-up story in the first issue – with art by penciller Marcelo Ferreira, inker Roberto Poggi, color artist Jim Campbell, and letterer Lanham – promises some difficult times for Peter and a beloved supporting character.

Let’s call Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man “my” Spider-Man comic for now. I’m looking forward to future issues.

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Exorsisters 1

Ian Boothby is one of my favorite comics writers. He was the best of the Simpsons Comics writers at Bongo Comics. He’s done some fine and funny work for MAD. Not enough comics afficinados know his name and they should. All of which brings us to Exorsisters #1-5 [Image; $3.99 each] with excellent art by Gisele Lagace; great color art by Pete Pantazis of Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands fame; and solid lettering by Taylor Esposito.

The title stars are Cate and Kate Harrow. Their mother is a piece of work who dragged them into her deals with the devil. Their job is to be pains in the buttocks to said devil and others of his ilk. I don’t want to reveal more because there are many cool surprises in these issues.

Boothby brings a lot of character to the young ladies. He combines supernatural suspense with considerable humor. Lagrace is more than up to providing the visuals. I’ve loved her work since the moment I saw it. Someday, short of making a deal with the devil, I’d love to work with her.

Exorsisters Volume 1: Damned if You Don’t [$16.99] will be hitting the comics shops any day now. It’s rated T+ for teen plus because it’s got that supernatural element in it. If there’s a down side to this volume, it’s that it ends on a cliffhanger. But, that aside, it does deliver a big chunk of satisfying story. I recommend it to teen and older readers.

ISBN 978-1534312043

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The second of my April appearances is a Coffee and Comics workshop in conjunction with the Ohio Center for the Book and the Cleveland Public Library. It happens on Saturday, April 27, 10:00-11:30 am at the Rising Star Coffee Roastery, 3617 Walton Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be discussing comics storytelling with a few surprises for the “class.” I’ll have more information on this event in next week’s column. See you then.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #296

I’m about a week away from what some might call “spring cleaning” and I call “getting ready for summer’s Vast Accumulation of Stuff garage sales.” I have so much stuff I can’t call it a collection. If it were a real collection, I’d actually know what I own and add  to it without buying duplicates. My two-fold dream is to achieve collection status within the next three years and get rid of my two storage units by the end of this summer.

If you follow my bloggy thing or follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you’ll see announcements of my garage sales come May. We’ve had a lot of fun with these in previous years with fans getting all sorts of cool items at very low prices. We even held a “Garage Con” one time featuring a panel discussion between me, legendary comics writer Mike W. Barr and Crankshaft/Funky Winkerbean cartoonist Tom Batiuk. This year, I’m hoping to do similar convention-like things during my garage sales. I’ll keep you posted.

On to the reviews…

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive [IDW; $15.99] collects the recent mini-series by Lee Allred (writer), Michael Allred (writer, inker), Laura Allred (colorist) and penciler Rich Tommaso, who I assume is their cousin or something. This is a fun family.

The four-issue series offered a wild take on classic Dick Tracy. I very much liked the detective’s modest re-imagining as a cop who is so good he keeps getting fired by officials who are afraid he will come after them with the same zeal with which he comes after more open criminals. So he gets bounced from city to city and, in this series, he’s fighting crime in “the city by the lake.” Though there are several cities who claim that description, I’m thinking Chicago is the setting here.

Dead or Alive is modern retro, if you will. It has the feel of the maniac Chester Gould newspaper strips of the past, but it also has a present-day sense of humor that made me chuckle. It has the crazy violence of the Gould strips, maybe even ramped up a notch. Classic heroes and villains are shown in different lights. It’s the Dick Tracy of a parallel universe.

Tommaso’s art exaggerates the Gould stylings. His storytelling is exciting and fun. The writing and coloring are also as sharp as a knife throughout the four issues. I’m glad I read them all in one sitting because I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive will be published in April. Only the most rigid of Tracy fans won’t love it. It’s my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1684054145

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Hobo Mom

Hobo Mom by Charles Forsman and Max de Radiguès [Fantagraphics; $14.99] teams two internationally-renowned cartoonists to tell the story of a family split by the title character. Natasha abandoned her husband and daughter to ride the rails. Tom is raising their pre-teen daughter Sissy. The young girl wants a mother. Tom still loves his wife. Natasha has returned because he wants to meet her daughter, be with her husband and try to make their family whole. Both Natasha and Tom struggle to make it work.

The two-color art of this graphic novelette is enticing. It’s deep and simultaneously simple. Which describes the story it tells and the emotional states of its characters. Though the book’s 64 pages doesn’t seem like a great deal of content, I think it’s the right length for the story and it’s a story I kept thinking about after I read it. I like that.

Hobo Mom isn’t a classic and, good as it is, I don’t see it picking up many award nominations. It’s definitely worth reading because of its quality and because it represents how many different kinds of stories the comics art form can tell.

ISBN 978-1-68396-176-5

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Maid-sama

I’m continuing to explore manga series available through my local library system. My most recent “discovery” was Maid-sama! 2-in-1 Edition Vol. 1 by Hiro Fujiwara [VIZ Media LLC; $14.99]. The book collects the first two volumes of the series.

Misaki Ayuzawa attends a high school that had been all-male and is still predominantly male. Through sheer force of effort and will, she becomes class president and is determined to raise the slovenly standards of the male majority. She seems to hate men, but that’s only one of the amusing elements in play.

Misaki does not come from wealth. Indeed, with her father gone, she works to help support her family. None of her classmates know what her after-school job is: she’s a maid in a maid café. Her secret is safe…until school heartthrob Takumi Usui walks into the café and recognizes her. Thus begins the maybe romance.

Misaki is kind of unpleasant, but she really does care about making her high school, lowly though some consider it, the best it can be. Takumi teases her, but he always had her back when she needs him. Even when she doesn’t realize she needs him.

Maid-sama is a little bit farce, a little bit romance, a little bit class warfare. The last element revolves around the arrogant class president of a much classier high school and his attempt to break Misaki.

I wasn’t sure what I thought of this volume while I was reading it. However, once I finished and reflected on it, I decided I was into it enough to try the next volume. We’ll see if it continued to hold my interest and entertain me.

Maid-sama has been around for quite a while. There are nine two-in-one volumes currently available. If you like manga and like trying different kinds of manga, you might enjoy this one.

ISBN 978-1-4215-8130-9

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My next convention appearance will be the Great Philadelphia Comic Con, April 12-14, at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Station Avenue, Oaks, PA 19460. There will be over two dozen comics industry guests, including Neal Adams, Don McGregor and Larry Hama. There will be over three dozen media guests, including John Wesley Shipp, Alice Cooper and Rose McIver. It looks to be a spectacular event and I’m looking forward to attending.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #295

Voting on comics awards is becoming a nigh-impossible task. There is so much amazing material out there from both the mainstream and the independent, and from all over the world. Most weeks, it’s even tough for me to pick my “pick of the week.” That’s not remotely the case this week.

Brian Fries won an Eisner Award for Mom’s Cancer, his first graphic novel. It was a moving account of his parent’s illness. He has won or been nominated for other awards since then. His latest graphic novel will doubtless receive well-deserved acclaim.

A Fire Story [Harry N. Abrams; $24.99] is a powerful account of how Fries and his wife Karen lost their home in wildfires that scorched northern California in October, 2017. Forty-four people died in the fires. Over six thousand homes and almost nine thousand structures were destroyed. In a matter of terrifying minutes, Fries and his wife lost their home and all but a few of their possessions. To me, it seems an unimaginable loss, one that might well end me. Fries had a different and more positive response.

He turned his tragedy into a first-hand online graphic memoir told with whatever tools he could pull together. The online version of this print memoir appeared on multiple news outlets and animated into a short feature. This is a refinement of the original version, albeit one that loses none of its original impact.

This book covers the fire, the destruction, the loss, the gratitude of the survivors, the aftermath, the helping one another put lives back in order, the quest to find normal again and the determined, slow rebuilding. The last is a work in progress.

Interspersed with the story of the Fries are stories of others who were caught in the wildfires. That Fries expanded his personal tale to include others is the mark of a keen journalist. It may be his fire story, but it is not his fire story alone.

I am in awe of the writing and art in this graphic novel. It is a terrifying story that still makes room for moments of joy. I got a bit teary when Fries and Karen present their adult daughters with their favorite stuffed animals from their youth.

A Fire Story is yet another example of how good comics can be and how much they can add to our lives and our conversations about our lives. You need to read this book. It needs to be in every public or school library. I say that a lot, but never lightly. Just as the entertainment business is driven by comics, so do comics expand and inform our concepts of literature on a daily basis. Comics are the premiere art form of our times.

A Fire Story is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-4197-3585-1

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Garfield

As with many good things in my life, I was introduced to Garfield by Don and Maggie Thompson. They told me the just-launched Garfield trade paperbacks were a great way to reprint comic strips. Though I had never read the Jim Davis strip prior to this, I bought that first collection and at least a dozen more before a lack of money and time forced me to halt this practice. I sold these paperbacks over the years since then.

Garfield Complete Works: Volume 1: 1978 & 1979 (Ballantine; $25] marks my return to collecting and reading a strip I have continued to enjoy for close to its entire forty years and counting. Because Garfield has been around so long, it is an easy target for haters who could never manage a week’s worth of entertaining comic strips, much less four decades worth.

The characters were great from the start and have evolved over the years. Some of the evolution is in their designs; the Garfield of yesteryear is not physically the Garfield of today. Jon’s roommate Lyman and his dog Odie moved in. Lyman left; Odie remained to be a wonderful foil for Garfield and even best the cat occasionally. Jon crushed on his pet’s veterinarian. She spurred his advances until, suddenly, she didn’t. They are now a couple. Change isn’t swift in Garfield, but it happens and happens without losing the laughs that have always been part of the strip.

This 6.7 by 8.5 inches volume collects the first two years of the strip. It has an introduction by Davis in which he expresses both his gratitude for the success of his creation and the joy he still experiences from him. I’m with him there.

Rereading these defining strips was a delight. As soon as I finish writing this week’s column, I’m ordering the second volume. These are entertaining and well-made books. This time, I’m in for as long as the series continues.

ISBN 978-0-425-28712-5

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Moteki

Manga fascinates me because there seems to be no end to the manga that falls into a “I’ve never seen anything quite like this” range. This week, I read Moteki Love Strikes! 1 by Mitsurou Kubo [Vertical Comics; $18.95]. This 438-page volume is about a man closing in on thirty seeking love or, failing that, sex. I’m going to let the back-cover blurb cover the basics:

Yukiyo Fujimoto’s life has been in a rut. He is about to turn thirty and has never held a steady job or had a girlfriend. And at a time when the prospects for hope seem at their lowest, suddenly his phone blows up! Out of the blue he is contacted by several women from his past! His moteki has finally come!! Love has struck and cupid’s arrow has hit him repeatedly and, coincidentally, all at the same time! Yukiyo may seem to have many options now, but is he ready for love? And are any of these women? The stage for love might be set, but the time might only be right for him to finally grow up!

“Moteki” is a Japanese slang term for a period of time when someone becomes popular with the opposite sex. Fujimoto thinks his moteki has come, but it’s not the easy path he expects. All of the issues and quirks that kept him from getting together with women are still there and, in some cases, have evolved with the life of the women who contact him. He’s as clueless as ever.

I found this volume entertaining, but I have serious reservations about recommending it. There is some crude behavior on the parts of both male and female characters, behavior that might well have been acceptable in Japan when the manga was published a decade ago, but makes me uncomfortable today. I think readers should try to get the book through their local libraries and make up their own minds if this is something they’d enjoy.

ISBN 978-1-945054-80-8

My next convention and other appearances are in April, so I get to stay home. Writing, reading comics, watching TV shows and monster movies; those are all nice breaks from the road.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #294

As this week’s column posts, I’m traveling back to my Medina, Ohio home after spending the weekend attending the Big Apple Comic Con in New York City. My mystic powers tell me I had a wonderful time introducing my Saintly Wife Barb to my friends there.

If I’m reading my schedule correctly, I won’t have to hit the road for another event until the Great Philadelphia Comic Con on April 12-14. An entire month of staying at home, writing, watching movies and TV shows and, of course, reading cool stuff so I can tell you about it right here in “Tony’s Tips!”

First up this time around and my pick of the week is The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom by David F. Walker with illustrators Damon Smith and Marissa Louise [Ten Speed Press; $19.99]. After escaping from slavery, the brilliant Douglass became many things. He was a social reformer, a crusading abolitionist who fought for women’s rights as well as for the freedom of slaves, a riveting orator, a compelling writer and a statesman whose services were requested by presidents and other powerful men. He broke barriers in many ways, including being praised by a history-challenged president who thought he was still alive.

Walker does a magnificent job capturing Douglass in this narrative. Readers will feel the degrading horror that was slavery and revel in how Douglass overcomes his past to become a beacon of hope for many, even today. There are parts of this book that are difficult to read. Yet, at its conclusion, despite all the parts of his life that Douglass could never know, there is triumph. Even knowing we as a nation face challenges born of the past and not yet conquered, there is triumph.

Artist Smith and colorist Louise provide visuals that are dramatic and fluid and real. Several prose articles throughout the book add a greater understanding of Douglass and his world.

The Life of Frederick Douglass is a graphic novel that should be in every personal, public and school library. It should be nominated for every comics industry award for which it is eligible. It is a work to be cherished.

ISBN 978-0-399-58144-1

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Moved to Los Angeles

I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation by Natalie Nourigat [BOOM! Box; $9.99] is more than the story of a woman who left her life in Portland to pursue a new career. Nourigat had been making her own comics and working as a commercial artist in Portland. But, as I’ve been hearing from comics friends who lived there, Portland has become more expensive with each passing year. Los Angeles isn’t cheap, but opportunities there can come with good pay and benefits.

Nourigat takes her readers through her journey, showing all of the many steps it takes to build a reasonably stable career in TV and movie animation. Though the book is a slim 96 pages, she includes copious advice toward pursing such a career. Finally, she brings in several other cartoonists to give their perspectives on working in Los Angeles and in animation.

I Moved to Los Angeles is a mightily useful book. Nourigat relates her life and her advice in clear and humorous style. You get a good feel for her and her work. I liked this book a lot.

As graphic works go, this is fairly inexpensive. I’d recommend it to fans who are interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff and also, especially, to students who are contemplating an animation career. Kudos to Nourigat for sharing her knowledge.

ISBN 978-1-68415-291-9

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Sally the Sleuth

I call right now the real Golden Age of Comics because of the vast availability of so many different kinds of comics from all over the world and from every era of comics history. Addressing the latter, we are getting collections of great old comics and comics that are perhaps not so great but which are just plain fun or of historical interest.

Sally the Sleuth [Bedside Press; $20] clicks off both my fun and my historical import boxes. Created by Adolphe Barreaux, Sally got her start in 1934 in two-page, black-and-white comic strips that ran in Spicy Detective Stories. Sally’s adventures were compact and, for the era, quite salacious. The feisty lady rarely remained clothed past the first page of any story. She was tied up by the villains in many tales and, occasionally, whipped while being held captive. Even so, the criminals were always brought to justice, fatally in some cases, and Sally was always part of that justice.

Though Sally worked for a “chief” who also seemed to be her lover and he rescued her most of the time, she solved many cases on her own and rescued him on occasion. She was sassy and sexy. What Doc Savage would have called a “brick,” though the Man of Bronze would have blushed at her nudity and her suggestive dialogue.

Just from a storytelling standpoint, I am impressed by the ability of the writers to tell a fairly complete story in just two pages. Later in her career, the stories would run four pages.

In 1950, Sally left the Spicy Detective Stories pulp magazine for Crime Smashers. Her adventures ran in the first fifteen issues of that comic book. The stories were longer and in full color. Also, Sally kept her clothes on. I found that a little bit disappointing. Don’t hate me.

Editor Hope Nicholson did a terrific job with this collection. The introduction by Tim Hanley is fascinating.

At just under 300 pages, Sally the Sleuth delivers a lot of fun for a very reasonable price. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-1-98871-5223

That’s all for now. I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #293

Whew! This year got off to a busy start, what with my trip to the Black Lightning set in Atlanta, a couple comics conventions and a few personal matters. I’m back in the saddle and will once again be bringing you tips on great comics on a weekly basis.

My second 2019 convention was Pensacon in Penascola, Florida. It’s my favorite convention, partly because the whole city embraces the event. The airport changes its gates to “stargates.” Several of the city’s best restaurants adopt themes appropriate to the convention. My son Ed and I had a great meal at the Fish House, which was all decked out as Hogwarts. I barely noticed the dementor that hovered over me while I dined. The restaurant even took a photo of me for its Wall of Fame. When I dine there next year, I’ll be able to see myself hanging among presidents, astronauts, entertainers, sports stars and others. I’ll be the photo people will be pointing at and asking “Who the heck is that?”

On to this week’s reviews…

Let’s make it official. Scooby-Doo Team-Up is my current favorite ongoing series. Sholly Fisch writes brilliantly funny stories that work on multiple levels, making the book accessible to and fun for readers of all ages. Dario Brizuela delivers instantly recognizable visuals for the Scooby Gang and their guest stars. His storytelling skills are just good.

Scooby Doo Team-Up Volume 6 [DC; $12.99] collects issues #31-36 of the series. We get team-ups with the Atom, Atom Ant, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Birds of Prey (Batgirl, Black Canary, Huntress], Yogi Bear and Angel and the Ape. The Birds of Prey story has a line that made me laugh out loud. Asked why she isn’t traveling around the country with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, Ms. Lance replies “Sometimes I need a break from Green Arrow’s constantly talking about ‘hideous moral cancer’ and ‘failing this city.’” Fisch draws from all the incarnations of the characters as he crafts adventures that are both funny and thrilling.

The afore-mentioned Angel and the Ape adventure includes more than a dozen characters from DC humor titles of the 1960s. Fisch gives us alternate takes on Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis while guest-starring the Inferior Five and many others. The final character reveals of the story had me cackling with delight.

I recommend Scooby-Doo Team-Up for comics readers of all ages. I’ve been reading them through my local library system, but I have just now purchased all six volumes. They deserve a place in my personal comics library.

ISBN978-1-4012-0576-0

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Marie Kondo

My office is a mess with books and DVDs and Godzilla knows what all over the place. The same holds true for my son’s old bedroom, now the repository of boxes of comics…and a corner of my wife and my master bedroom…and half of our downstairs family room…and what I laughingly call my reading room…and half our basement. My great plan to reduce and finally organize my Vast Accumulation of Stuff has clearly not survived contact with the enemy. And so I turn to the East for wisdom.

Marie Kondo is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and the star of Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Drawn by Yuko Uramoto, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story [Ten Speed Press; $14.99] distills Kondo’s methods into a fun story of a young woman who, with Kondo’s guidance, transforms her messy apartment, her unorganized work and her love life. I’m doing okay with my love life, but, geez, could I use help with the other stuff!

I got a kick out of this manga. Watching Chiaki get her, err, stuff together was enjoyable. I considered Kondo’s methods with far more interest than I would have imagined at the start of the book…and started thinking about which of her methods would be useful to me.

Keeping the possessions that spark joy is a key element of Kondo’s methods. This manga certainly sparked joy in me. I would recommend to anyone who likes comics that are outside the usual. I would also recommend as a gift for friends and other loved ones who might not be avid comics readers, but would enjoy this comic.

Now to start tackling my clothes closets. Because old clothes that no longer look good on me definitely do not spark joy.

ISBN 978-0-399-58053-6

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Comic Book Killer

Originally published in 1988, The Comic Book Killer by Richard A. Lupoff [Borgo Press; $16.99] is the first in the author’s Lindsey and Plum series. Lindsey is a white suburban bachelor who works for an insurance company and who takes care of his invalid mother. Plum is a black detective. Forced to work together on a case involving the theft of a half million dollars worth of comics and the murder of the comics store owner putting the pricy collection together for a client, they are as different as two people could be.

The intricate plot stretches back to World War II. Comics history plays a key role, as does the history of the faux-comics that are part of the pricy collection. Unsuspected connections arise as the case progresses, as does romance between the insurance investigator and the beautiful detective. I don’t want to spoil this novel any further, but I will add that those connections elicited more than one “Wow!” from me when revealed.

This Borgo edition was published in 2012 and it’s the edition that I recommend to you. In addition to the prose novel, it contains 20 pages of faux-comics from Gangsters at War. One of the stories is drawn by Trina Robbins.

The Lindsey and Plum series runs to nine books. All of them involve collectors of one sort or another. This is the only one featuring comic books. But I liked this debut novel so much that I’m reading the entire series.

ISBN 978-1-4344-4520-9

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My next convention appearance is the Big Apple Comic Con, March 9-10, at The Penn Plaza Pavilion, Pennsylvania Hotel, 401 7th Avenue in New York City. Guests include William Shatner, Mike Colter, Jim Steranko and many others. I’d love to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #292

My 2019 convention season started with the North Texas Comic Book Show on February 2-3 in Irving, Texas. The show was geared toward fans of the comic books of the 1970s and 1980s with terrific guests like Neal Adams, J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, Bob McLeod, Joe Staton, Larry Hama, Elliot S! Maggin, Keith Pollard, Al Milgrom, Randy Emberlin, Graham Nolan, Denys Cowan, Aaron Lopresti, John Beatty, Rudy Nebres, Larry Stroman, Scott Koblish, Michael Golden, Arthur Suydam, Tim Vigil, Bill Reinhold, Linda Lessmann Reinhold and my new friend Amy Chu. Thanks to Amy, convention goers will once more be seeing my cheesy Godzilla sketches. We’re not talking fine art here, but the sketches are somewhat amusing.

I had a wonderful time at the North Texas Comic Book Show and will be writing about it in my personal blog in the near future. In the meantime, let me share that it is a wonderful and wonderfully run event. If invited to be a guest at the show in the future, say yes.  If you’re a fan, start digging through your long boxes of classic comics to get them signed by some of the finest writers and artists in comics history.

On to this week’s reviews…

The Unknown Anti-War Comics [Yoe Books/IDW; $29.99] is this week’s pick of the week. Edited by Craig Yoe and featuring comics written and drawn by Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Denny O’Neil and several rarely discussed comics creator, it’s a most unexpected book. It collects stories that appeared in various Charlton Comics genre titles – war and science fiction – that could honestly be described as anti-war stories. All but one of them originally appeared in comic books published during the Cold War of the 1950s. The one exception is from 1967, a time when a comparatively youthful peace movement was protesting the U.S.A.’s war in Vietnam.

The hardcover book kicks off with a single-page comics introduction by artist Nate Powell of March acclaim. Next is a foreword by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary. Editor Yoe provides historical context to the reprinted comics in his “Peace Comics” essay. To me, context is an important element of such books. There is a history to the comics we do and it should be recorded.

From a historical standpoint, I’m delighted this book starts with material from Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s Never Again, a short-lived title that didn’t disguise its anti-war sentiments. The host of these stories was the Unknown Soldier and their settings ranged from the Roman Empire to World War II.

One story worth noting is “No Common Ground” wherein refugees from outer space are surrounded by an impenetrable steel-like wall. The peaceful aliens have superior weaponry, but only want someplace to live in peace. It’s not looking good for either side until an alien child and a Earth child are found playing with each other. Though the basic plot to this tale was repeated over the years, this 1963 story penciled by Bill Molno and Rocco Mastroserio still brings a smile to my face.

Not all of the stories in the collection have such happy endings. But the overall theme of the volume is that hope and peace are not beyond our ability to achieve. That is a important lesson for our own contentious times.

ISBN 978-1-68405-178-6

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Com Artist

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente [Quirk Book; $14.99] is a murder mystery set at Comic-Con International. The novel is a bit flawed, but I like it enough to recommend it to you.

What sold me is protagonist Mike Mason, a comic book artist with a couple of very successful projects in his past, one of which became a hit movie. After his wife cheats on him with his editor, Mason becomes a nomad. He travels from convention to convention, cutting deals so that he can stay a few extra days after each convention. He has storage units in several cities. I love this concept a great deal and wouldn’t mind seeing another Mike Mason mystery.

Mason is supposed to accept an award for an elderly artist, one of the best, who inspired Mike and who was ripped off by a publisher in so many ways. The artist dies just before the convention, which Mason doesn’t learn about until an odd young woman who says she’s assigned to assist him at the show, tells him about it. That’s sad, but it’s the most normal thing that happens to Mason.

The editor who stole his wife is murdered. The cops think Mason was the killer. He’s pursued by thugs and has no idea why. His wife – they never signed divorce papers – shows up at the con. A popular writer is trying to lure him back to the title on which Mike made his bones. He’s kidnapped by the publisher who screwed his mentor. And so and so on, all interwoven with crazy comics and convention stories based on reality. Throw in excellent Tom Fowler drawings appearing throughout the novel and you’ve got an entertaining read. For the most part.

Van Lente doesn’t nail the ending. The final chapters include many twists that make for a much-too-complicated conclusion. The novel needed to be either shorter or longer, the latter to make a little more sense out of the events. It’s a good book, but it doesn’t fill me with satisfaction.

Just the same, I want to encourage you to give it a chance. I like the Mike Mason character and some of the supporting players. I want to see more of them.

ISBN 978-1-68369-034-4

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Supers Book One

Supers: A Little Star Past Cassiopeia by Frédéric Maupomé with art by Dawid [Top Shelf; $14.99] is the first book in a graphic album series about three young refugees from outer space. Older brother Matt and siblings Lily and Benji were abandoned on Earth by their parents in an effort to protect the kids. They’ve found a place to live and made it seem their folks are around. They have enrolled in school. But school can be tough for the new kids, especially when they have powers they can never use in public. Matt, Lily and Benji live with the fear of being discovered and what would surely happen to them if they were.

Supers won me over with its realistic portrayal of the “new kids in school” scenes and its never overpowering sci-fi elements. I like how the kids have each other’s backs and the desire to help people, even though their good intentions sometimes don’t work as they had hoped. The writing and art tell their story in an engaging manner. I’m in for the whole series.

ISBN 978-1-60309-439-9

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Pensacon 2019 in Pensacola, Florida is my next convention. It’ll be held February 22-24 at the Pensacola Bay Center, Pensacola Grand Hotel and other venues in the city. It’s one of my favorite events of the year and I hope to see some of my “Tony’s Tips” readers at the convention. You’ll have an amazing time!

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

 

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #291

I’m writing this week’s column at what I sincerely hope is the tail end of what the local Cleveland newscasters having been calling a “Snowmageddon.” For some reason, the inclement weather has combined with some sort of cold/flu/plague bug to give me a craving for old abominable snowman movies. I watched The Snow Creature (1954) and The Abominable Snowman (1957) back to back. I would tell you these two films are unrecognized cinematic classics, but not even below zero wind chills can numb my mind to that extent.

Fortunately, I also had some pretty good comics to ease my misery. From the streets of Harlem to the depths of the ocean with a side trip to Metropolis, the three books I’m reviewing this week helped keep my mind off my physical ailments and the snow piles towering over me when I walked to get the mail or my daily newspapers. Even a Snowmageddon can have an upside.

I only met legendary author and comics writer Alvin Schwartz once. It was at one of Roger Price’s Mid-Ohio-Con events. By the end of our first conversation, Alvin and I had bonded. Though I never saw my friend again, we called each other on the phone and we exchanged e-mails. He was an inspiration to me. His novels on the concept of the tulpa (a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers) gave me a new way of looking at the characters I had created and why they seemed so real to me.

Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1944-1947 [IDW; $49.99] collects the Man of Steel’s daily adventures from October 30, 1944 to April 26, 1947. Schwartz wrote these stories, the equally legendary Wayne Boring drew them and Dean Mullaney lovingly presents them in this glorious hardcover book from The Library of American Comics. It’s a fascinating, fun visit to a past era of one of the most beloved characters in fiction.

These stories could be classified as situation comedies of a sort. A con man is mistakenly revealed to be Superman. Lois Lane is set to inherit millions if she gets married. Invisible creatures make Superman’s life maddening, as does the somewhat more visible Mister Mxyztplk. A young man’s future is nearly ruined because a professor doesn’t believe in Superman’s powers. There are some more serious tales in the mix, such as one on juvenile delinquency, but, for the most part, these are breezy entertainments, perfectly suitable for all readers.

Schwartz’s dialogue is always clever. Boring’s art is both iconic and warmly inviting. The production of this book is as much a work  of art as the actual comic strips. It is a thing of joy and my top pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1-68405-197-7

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Voyage to the Deep

This is a wild one. Inspired by the movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea [1961], Dell Comics published Voyage to the Deep, a nigh-psychedelic, title featuring the adventures of the nuclear super-submarine S.S.N. Proteus. In each of the four issues of the title, Admiral Jonathan Leigh and his crew were called upon to battle “the Enemy,” a mysterious adversary seemingly bent on eradicating all life on Earth.

Voyage to the Deep [It’s Alive/IDW; $24.99] has lovingly gathered all four issues of the title. Drawn by the legendary Sam Glanzman, whose World War II service in the United States Navy informed his incredible work on hundreds of comics, the first three issue-length stories were very likely written by Lionel Ziprin, a Kabbalist and poet who lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and is known to have written issues of Kona Monarch of Monster Isle and scripts for some of Dell’s war comics. The fourth issue has been attributed to the prolific Paul S. Newman.

No world-destroying scheme was too diabolic for the Enemy. It tried to destroy the Earth by flood, by ice, by anti-matter and by fire. Each time, Admiral Leigh would devise outlandish methods by which his submarine could foil the attacks. In most issues, salvation was preceded by manic imaginings of what humanity would suffer if the Enemy succeeded. Glanzman excelled at such disastrous drawings and Ziprin’s prose made the predictive art even more fearsome.

Sidebar. I was so taken by Ziprin’s writing I went to eBay to buy a comics adaptation of the TV series Adventures in Paradise [1959-1962] on the possibility he wrote the issue. I’ll write about it in the near future.

If the comics themselves weren’t reason enough to buy this handsome hardcover collection, the additional features seal the deal. Comics creator and historian Stephen R. Bissette’s introduction gives us a insightful look at submarines in fantasy fiction and their use in comic books during the Cold War. Additionally, there are galleries for the Voyage to the Deep covers, inside covers and back covers; an afterword by artist Rufus Dayglo, and biographies of Glanzman, Bissette and Dayglo. Collection editor Drew Ford should be proud of this volume. It’s wonderful!

ISBN 978-1-68405-450-3

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Luke Cage Everyman

Luke Cage: Everyman [Marvel; $19.99] collects the digital series by  writer Anthony Del Col and artist Jahnoy Lindsay. I enjoy Marvel’s print versions of such digital series because the comics tend to be complete unto themselves with interesting premises and satisfying endings. With the ongoing series, it sometimes seems like stories never really end. They just lurch clumsily into a continuation of the same old stories.

Harlem is suffering from a life-threatening heat wave as the story opens. The mysterious “Everyman” purports to be the champion of the people, murdering the powerful and wealthy deemed to have committed crimes against the people. The victims die swiftly from diseases that come out of nowhere.

Hired to guard a client targeted by Everyman, Luke is also dealing with his own medical situation. He has been diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). His skin might be invulnerable, but his brain is showing the effects of the hits he’s taken during his career as a hero for hire.

Del Col does a good job writing Luke. We get some great scenes of Luke with his daughter Danielle. We get some emotional moments of Luke realizing what his disease likely means for his relationship with her and others he loves. I think some of our best super-hero stories contrast the fantastic with the real world.

Luke Cage: Everyman is a solid story with good art. The inclusion of Omega Red was a minus for me. Of late, I am increasingly bored with all things X-Men. But that won’t prevent me from recommending this trade paperback to you. The more quality Luke Cage comics we get, the happier I am.

ISBN 978-1-302-91291-8

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #290

My 2019 got off to a great start. I flew to Atlanta to attend the  Black Lightning second season wrap party and then visited the set for two days.

The love and respect I received from literally everyone working on the show was equaled only by my love and respect for them. At the wrap party, I was asked to address the cast and crew. On the set, I sat behind Salim Akil and his monitors while he directed pivotal scenes from the finale. I was given a tour of the amazing sets, the back lot and the construction areas. I had lunch with the wondrous Christine Adams on Monday and with Jordan Calloway, Bill Duke and Marvin Jones on Tuesday. I signed books and posters for members of the crew and even got to wear a Black Lightning vest, as shown in this week’s opening photo.

I’ll be writing about my Atlanta adventures over at Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing [http://tonyisabella.blogspot.com/]. While I won’t be revealing any details of the remaining episodes airing this season, I will have lots to tell you.

On to this week’s reviews…

Norm Breyfogle 1

I’ve been revisiting the Norm Breyfogle era of Batman in the sadly out-of-print Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1, which was originally published in the summer of 2015. At that time, the 520-page volume sold for $49.99. This days, alas, buying a copy on the secondary market could run you a hundred bucks or more. I’m writing about the volume this week in the hopes my words and your subsequent appeals to DC Comics will convince the publisher to put the book back into print.

Breyfogle’s expressive and fluid art is astonishing in its range. He portrayed Batman’s moodiness in both the Dark Knight’s face and figure. He drew dramatic action scenes that fly across the panels in exciting and lifelike manner. He could depict human emotion as well as any of the great Batman artists. His storytelling was solid and, when it served the story, eye-popping. I always like his work and, now that I have the opportunity to study it, like it more with each passing year.

It helps that Breyfogle’s art was in the service of great stories by great writers like John Wagner and Alan Grant. Those veterans of the British comics industry brought a different feel to the Batman without losing the essence of the character. Their Batman was the hero of the night streets. No reality-changing epic crossovers in this volume. Just down-to-earth and remarkably entertaining tales of a champion of justice. Guest stories by Mike W. Barr, Max Allan Collins, Jo Duffy and Bob Greenberger add to the mix.

Legends of The Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Volume 1 is my pick of the week. Keep searching for a copy you can afford. It’s definitely worth the hunt.

ISBN 978-1-4012-5898-6

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Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips [Hermes Press; $50] is  a hardcover collection of the critically-acclaimed but short-lived newspaper strip based on the longer-running afternoon soap opera. Drawn and perhaps written by Ken Bald, the strip ran from March 14, 1971 through March 11, 1972. It was a very good year.

Bald has had an amazing career in comic books and comic strips. He drew super-heroes in the 1940s for a number of publishers, notably Timely Comics. He created the character Namora while he was working on Timely’s Sub-Mariner. He drew some of the most beautiful women in comic books, including the Blonde Phantom and Millie the Model. Before Dark Shadows, he drew the Dr. Kildare strip, also based on a popular television series.

Starring “good” vampire Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows went full-on supernatural thriller during its single year. Vengeful immortals and Egyptian gods. Werewolves and a powerful warlock. We even get some time travel with the spirit of a never-born Collins ancestor from the path. The stories could have run a little longer and the writing could have been a little more powerful, but these tales are great fun.

Because my schedule was at odds with the afternoon airing of Dark Shadows, I never watched more than a few episodes of the legendary series. This collection of the newspaper strip has me interested in exploring the show’s other incarnations: the TV series, the movies, the comic books and the novels.

Dark Shadows: The Complete Newspaper Strips is recommended to fans of Ken Bald, newspaper story strips, supernatural fiction and, most certainly, of the Dark Shadows show. InStock Trades, who sponsors this weekly review columns, has it at 25% off.

ISBN 978-1-61345-140-3

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Satoko and Nada

Manga continues to amaze and delight me. My most recent discovery is Satoko and Nada Volume 1 by writer/artist Yupechika with Marie Nishimori as script advisor [Seven Seas; $12.99]. Satoko is a young Japanese woman going to school in the United States. New roommate Nada is a Saudi Arabian woman. Both bring their cultures to their lives in America, a journey played out in single-page comic strips that do have some continuity between the strips.

This is a feel-good manga. Satoko and Nada are respectful of each other’s culture and eager to learn more about them…and about the culture of our own country. There is a honest and charming humor to their day-to-day lives, building blocks to a beautiful overall tale of acceptance and inclusion.

“Friendship knows no borders” is a nice summation of this series. Satoko and Nada possess a good heart, a heart full of hope, a heart full of respect. It’s a charming comic that more American reviewers should be writing about and more American fans should be reading. Suitable for teens and, by my personal estimation, younger readers as well, it gets my recommendation.

ISBN 978-1-626929-09-8

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If you want to start making plans now, my first convention of 2019 will be the North Texas Comic Book Show, February 2-3 at the Irving Convention Center, 500 West Las Colinas Boulevard in Irving, Texas. The guest list includes the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” reunion of writer J.M. DeMatteis, penciler Mike Zeck and inker Bob McLeod plus Larry Hama, Joe Station, Elliot S! Maggin and many more comics greats. I hope to see you there.

I’ll be back next week with more reviews.

© 2019 Tony Isabella

TONY’S TIPS #289

This is my final “Tony’s Tips” column of 2018. It was a good year for me. I was delighted by the positive critical response for Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, currently available in trade paperback wherever fine comics are sold. Like, for example, though the great people at InStockTrades.

Full disclosure. InStockTrades sponsors this weekly column. But I am also a customer of theirs. I recommend their prices and service to all of my readers here.

I was a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2018 and hope to be a guest at a whole bunch of conventions in 2019. DC Comics had me out for the world premiere of Black Lightning in January, while Marvel Comics brought my wife Barb and myself to the world premiere of Ant-Man and the Wasp later in the year. I got to meet the entire cast of Black Lightning and some Ant-Man and the Wasp cast members, notably Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne.

I appeared on several TV news shows last year. I was interviewed by dozens of print and online journalists. I spoke at several schools and libraries. I received love and respect from countless fans and entertainment industry professionals. I count comics professionals among the later because, more than ever, comics drive the TV shows and movies we love.

This concluding year was not perfect. We lost many dear people and saw frankly disgusting behavior on the political and social media fronts. But hope remains and, like so many of you, I hope we will do better on all fronts in 2019. Always forward.

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Plastic Man #1-6 by Gail Simone with artist Adriana Melo and color artist Kelly Fitzpatrick [DC Comics; $3.99 per issue] checks off my Plastic Man boxes. It is a redemption story and you know how much I love those. It portrays Plastic Man as funny and capable without going dark as DC did in the Metal and Terrifics titles. It has as much heart as I’ve seen in any recent super-hero comics. It boasts some terrific guest heroes and villains.

Simone remains one of our art form’s best writers. Her Plastic Man is far from perfect, but a hero at his core. Pado Swakatoon is one of the best supporting characters Plas has ever had. The plot takes twists and turns I didn’t see coming…and that’s no mean feat for a guy who’s been doing this as long as I have. At the end of these six issues, I felt I had read a satisfying story and wanted more of the same as soon as possible.

Melo’s art and storytelling are amazing. The action stuff is full of movement. The human stuff is full of emotion. The actual drawing is first-rate from start to finish.

Plastic Man is the kind of comic we need more of from DC. A writer puts their mark on a character and it’s obvious that writer has a better grasp of the character than any of the other writers at DC. When it happens it’s wondrous to behold, though there’s always the fear that the company won’t recognize the priceless gem that’s been laid before them.

If you’re more a trade paperback reader, Plastic Man [$16.99] will be available in that format come April. The six-issue series is my pick of the week.

ISBN 978-1401289379

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Tony Stark 1

Writer Dan Slott takes chances. Yes, because he writes high-profile Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, he likely has the approval of his editors. Still, I find myself awed by some of the directions he has taken these iconic heroes. Currently, I’m very much enjoying Tony Stark: Iron Man. I have read the first six issues {$4.99 for #1, $3.99 for each of the other issues] and I’m impressed.

The corporate intrigue, human drama and pseudo-science tickles me. Stark is about to give the world a virtual reality system that is ridiculously cool. Business rivals and the odd super-villain have been causing problems. Tony and his birth mom are having troubles connecting. His company is safeguarding the rights of A.I. beings like Jocasta, while Jocasta herself is facing interesting personal issues. And let’s not leave out the budding romance with the Wasp and the evil brother. It’s such a jumble of stuff, some of which borders on cliche. However, all of it comes together to make for an entertaining series.

If, as with Plastic Man, you prefer reading comic books in trades,you won’t have too long to wait for Tony Stark: Iron Man Vol. 1: Self-Made Man [$16.99]. The collection of the first six issues is due to hit the stores in January.

ISBN 978-1302912727

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Ne Ne Ne

Is there a manga sub-genre involving young women in love with older men? A few weeks back, I reviewed After the Rain 1 by Jun Mayuzuki. It’s the story of a high school student smitten by the 45-year-old manager of a family restaurant. What seemed like a creepy premise turned out to be a rather sweet tale of these two different people chastely exploring their feelings for one another.

For this week’s column, we’re looking at Ne Ne Ne by Shizuku Totono (story) and Daisuke Hagiwara (art). Published by Yen Press with a “T” for “teen” rating, this seemingly done-in-one volume manga has a young woman still in her teens married to a man twenty years her senior. It’s an arranged marriage to secure the fortunes of both of their families. Oh, yeah, and she’s never seen her husband’s face. He wears a cat/fox mask because he’s always “on call” for dealing with supernatural matters.

Koyuki wants to be a good wife to Shin, but she’s inexperienced in the ways of wedded bliss. It turns out Shin is just as innocent as his much younger wife. What drives the story and what also provides much gentle humor is the couple’s mutual difficulty in navigating this unfamiliar territory. Lest you mistakenly think Ne Ne Ne has  salacious content, let me add Shin has vowed not to have sex with Koyuki until she is older.

Despite their lack of physical intimacy, Koyuki and Shin do grow as a couple. They are very likeable characters. I’m disappointed there aren’t more volumes to their stories. I would like to spend a bit more time with them.

Because of the premise, I don’t think this manga will entertain all readers. I thought it was well-written and well-drawn. I recommend it based on its likeable characters and the quality of the art and writing.

ISBN 978-1-9753-8103-5

That’s a wrap for 2018. I’ll be back with more reviews in the new year before us. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella