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