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

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


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

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


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



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



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


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


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


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


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.



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


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


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