Thursday, January 18, 2018

TONY'S TIPS #242

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Mark Vogel’s psychedelic Groovy: When Flower Power Bloomed in Pop Culture; Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During the Second World War by Trina Robbins; and The 1964 New York Comicon: The True Story Behind the World’s First Comic Convention by J. Ballman!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

BLACK LIGHTNING BEAT 1/15/18

If I were reading this bloggy thing, what I would most like to read about today would be the star-studded DC Comics in D.C. event held this past weekend in our nation’s capital. The keystone of that stellar event was the world premiere of the Black Lightning TV series. And I am going to write about the huge deal that was. But I’m going to write about it tomorrow.

Today...you get a Black Lightning mission statement and an amusing in the “It’s funny because it happened to someone else” school of comedy telling of the journey my son Ed and I took in traveling to Washington, D.C. We’ll start with the heavy stuff, work our way to the funny stuff and, hopefully tie it all together so that you’ll be slapping your foreheads and saying “I saw how he did that.” Or maybe not. This isn’t an exact science.

Black Lightning is much bigger than Tony Isabella. Black Lightning is bigger than the comic books, the TV series and all the talented  people who have worked on the comics and the TV series. All these people, myself most especially, must recognize that and recognize the great responsibility that comes with being associated with this character. The question we must always ask ourselves is not what we would do, but what Jefferson Pierce would do. I think of Jefferson as the man I want to be. The TV show’s Salim Akil has said this as well. We didn’t share that thought with one another. It was simply the unspoken engine which drives us both.
 
I began to recognize and understand and embrace this mission when I started attending the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia. It started when black readers would come up to me, sometimes hugging me with tears forming in their eyes and tell me Black Lightning was the first comic they ever bought for themselves  because it’s the first time they saw themselves in a comic. In all fairness, for other readers, they can probably say the same for the comic books featuring the Black Panther, the Falcon or Luke Cage. But, as the creator of Black Lightning, it was a profound moment to realize how important my character was to so many readers. It was a life-changing moment.

I have told the tale of how, growing up in the very segregated city of Cleveland, my first black friends were comic-book fans met when they attended meetings of the Graphic Arts Society comics club I’d founded and which held monthly meetings at the Cudell Recreation Center. Yes, the same place where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police officers who should not have been police officers. The horror of Tamir’s slaying will never diminish and, even when I think of those fun meetings, I can never forget the terrible crime that was committed by those officers and the loss of a young life that should not have ended there.

Those three comic club friends - Bruce Burke, Leroy Crayton, Dennis Knowles - were the start of the journey that has defined much of my comics career. “Diversity” wasn’t in my vocabulary back then. But I thought there was something fundamentally unfair about the lack of black comics heroes for my friends. When I started working for Marvel Comics in 1972, I eagerly embraced assignments on Hero for Hire and Black Goliath.

My work on those Marvel heroes was why DC Comics wanted me to write a black super-hero for them. They handed me two completed scripts of an amazingly offensive title called Black Bomber. I refused to “punch up” those scripts and take over writing the series with its third issue. I convinced DC to kill the series and created my own super-hero. Black Lightning.

There have been ups and downs with my relationship with DC Comics. There was an unintentional glitch in inviting me to the “DC Comics in D.C.” event. But, once DC was aware of that glitch, the company and its representatives bent over backwards to include me and make me feel like an honored guest. I’ll tell you that story in my next bloggy thing. Or maybe, given how long-winded I can get, I’ll start telling that story.

The mission statement:

Everyone working on Black Lightning, whether it be in the comics or on the TV series recognizes the importance of Jefferson Pierce and his story. Everyone working on Black Lightning is 100% committed to  bringing their dedication and talent to the work. It is a honor to be part of this. It is a responsibility to always give our best to this work.

******************************

Now that you have the mission statement, let me tell you how much it took to get me and my son Ed to the “DC Comics in D.C.” event. It was a harrowing adventure lacking only in Nazis for me to punch and snakes for me to dread.

Okay. That might be an exaggeration.

DC booked us for a noon-ish flight on Friday. We would have arrived in plenty of time to see a special screening of the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight animated feature and enjoy dinner with Dan DiDio, Jim Lee and others. Then United Airlines canceled that flight, putting us on a flight scheduled to leave at eight in the evening. So the movie and dinner were off the table, but we would still get to D.C. in time to get a full night’s sleep.

Because the snow-covered roads weren’t being cleaned efficiently or at all, my daughter Kelly drove us to the airport hours before our flight was due to leave. When we checked out bags, we learned that our flight had been delayed by an hour.

We had a nice meal at The Pub, one of the better restaurants at the airport, then headed to our gate. Where we learned our flight had been delayed again. This would keep happening for the next couple hours. Finally, the gate attendant told us we would be departing at midnight. The crew on the plane, which was coming from New Jersey, were going to fly us to Washington D.C.

Two things you should know. Just to build suspense. We were flying United, which is far from my favorite airline at the best of times and, besides us, there were only two other passengers booked on the flight. Both were young women, one of whom had been waiting for a flight since nine in the morning.

The weather was much improved by the time the flight arrived at our gate. The arriving passengers deplaned. We had been told the crew was good to go. Then, just as we were waiting to board, we learned the flight was cancelled. We would not be able to leave until six in the morning on Saturday.

You will never convinced me that United cancelled this flight for any other reason that the airline didn’t want to fly with just we four passengers. Their bottom line was the only concern...and they made no further accommodations for us.

Okay, they did give the young women blankets since they were going to try to sleep on the floor. The United personnel acted as if they were handing out cloth of spun gold.

The airport hotel was booked, but, even if there had been rooms for us, United would not have paid for them.

There would be no food or travel vouchers given to compensate us for the gross inconvenience.

When I request the United Air Club be opened so that we could, at least, sleep on comfortable couches, we were told that was utterly impossible. I briefly considered breaking into the club. I have skills I don't talk about.

The young women tried to sleep, but, when we saw them later, they told us they had managed maybe a restless hour apiece. It’s no fun to sleep in a nearly deserted airport.

Ed didn’t fare better. He tried to sleep on the only row of seats in the area that had three seats in a row without armrests. But the overhead lights were too bright and the continuous music was too loud. I didn’t even try to sleep. What I did do, being a cup half full kind of fellow, was make a new friend.

Sylvia is an always-smiling black women in her late 40s. She drives one of those electric carts used to carry passengers who might have difficulty navigating the long airport terminals wherever they have to go. She was waiting on a long-delayed flight to arrive and just tooling around the terminal.

I was walking around the terminal trying to get a jump on my Fitbit steps for the day when she pulled up alongside me and asked me if I wanted a ride. This was a smile that could not be refused, so I accepted.

We spent a hour or more just driving around the terminal. She asked where I was going and why. I told her about the “DC in D.C.” event and about Black Lightning. She told me about her previous career as a teacher and was excited to hear Jefferson Pierce was a teacher in the comic books and a principal on the TV series. She knows young men who have a knack for drawing and who read comic books, so we’re keeping in touch. The plan is for me to talk to the kids about all the skills that go into making comic books.

We talked about our children and our lives. I tried to cajole her into an electric cart race. She drove me to the airport’s Dunkin Donuts, which was the only 24-hour eatery in the place and waited until I got an egg sandwich. We kept checking on my son and the two young women to make sure they were safe. It was an unexpectedly fun way to kill some time during an otherwise horrible night.

Her late flight arrived, so she drove me back to the gate where Ed has trying to sleep. I gave her my card so she could contact me at some later date. Hugs were exchanged.

I was still pissed off at United. I plan on giving them what for in an email complaint. I don’t plan on ever flying the airline again unless there’s no other choice. But, all the same, I can’t say I’m sorry that I made a new friend. That’s what’s life should be about, especially in a country where we have a Dumpster president and his Republican allies who constantly try to drive Americans apart with their bigotry and hate speech.

Four hours later, our completely packed airplane left Cleveland at its scheduled departure time. Sure, it was going to an airport a half-hour further away from our destination than the airport where we had originally been scheduled to land. Sure, the taxi ride cost us $75 as opposed to the $15 for our Sunday morning ride to our original airport. But, at least, we were on our way to Washington, D.C. and one of the best days of my life.

I’ll tell you all about that electrifying day in tomorrow’s bloggy thing. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Monday, January 15, 2018

MADE SOME NEW FRIENDS

I'll get back to blogging as soon as possible. There are one or two things I have to do today. But I hope to be back no later than tomorrow to regale you with tales of my recent adventures and so much cool Black Lightning stuff.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

BLACK LIGHTNING BEAT 1/11/18

There’s a lot going on with Black Lightning right now. There will be a star-studded premiere of the TV series at this weekend’s “DC in D.C.” event in Washington, D.C. I’ll be there as a guest of DC Comics, for which I thank them. Expect a full report on the event sometime next week.

Popping up all over are Black Lightning billboards, subway posters, magazine ads, TV ads and even, in Times Square, a Black Lightning tour bus. Advance reviews of the TV series have been nothing less than spectacular.

The six-issue Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands comics series by me, artist Clayton Henry, colorist Pete Pantazis, letterer Josh Reed, associate editor Harvey Richards and group editor Jim Chadwick has been getting great reviews online. I’ve been doing a whole bunch of interviews in support of both the comic book and the TV series. It is an exciting time for me.

I’ll be covering all of the above in future installments of “Black Lightning Beat,” but, for today, I want to go back away and speak about the importance of giving proper credit where credit is due. Warning: what seems to be ethical and straightforward to me might not seem that way to others.

Black Lightning Volume 2 [$19.99] will be hitting the comics shops any day now. For the first time ever, this trade paperback collects  my creation’s major appearances following his original 1970s run. I wrote a new introduction for the book, which is only fair since I was the guy who suggested and urged DC to do this book before a collection of my 1990s Black Lightning stories. I wanted to see as many Black Lightning stories back in print as possible and I wanted to see some talented writers and artists pick up some of that sweet reprint money. I aspire to a niceness that often eludes me at other times in my life.

Writers represented in this volume are Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Martin Pasko, Paul Kupperberg and J.M. DeMatteis. The pencillers: Dick Dillin, George Tuska, Rich Buckler, Marshall Rogers, Mike Nasser, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano and Gerald Forton. It’s a terrific roster.

My delight over seeing my contributor’s copies of this collection was unfortunately marred by an embarrassing credit mistake. As I’ve told anyone who would listen and some who don’t want to hear from me ever again, the official creator credit line is: Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor von Eeden.

DC Comics got it wrong in Black Lightning Volume Two. The company, through its representatives, have apologized for the credit error. They have promised to correct in the digital copies of the volume and in any future print editions. I accepted their apology because, if a lifetime in the comics industry has taught me anything, it’s that mistakes happen and they usually happen without malice. But do not equate my understanding with my being okay with this mistake. It pisses me off. It will always piss me off.

“With” might not seem like a huge difference from “and,” but there are reasons this revised credit line is part of my agreement with DC Comics. I’ve been reluctant to spell this out. My aim in writing and insisting on the revised credit this way was always intended to make the revised credit line ambiguous and open to interpretation. That has proven to be a mistake on my part.

I consider myself the creator of Black Lightning. Not a co-creator. The creator. As I have stated in many interviews over the decades, everything important about Jefferson Pierce and Black Lightning was created by me before I brought my creation to DC Comics. This was recognized by DC Comics with the original creator credit line that appeared in all of the character’s appearances during his original 1970s run and his solo stories in World’s Finest Comics.

This creator credit line was changed without my knowledge and in violation of my agreement with DC Comics when Black Lightning began appearing in Detective Comics. A writer, taking his cue from what he’d seen in movies and on TV, changed it to “Based on a character created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden.” That credit was a false on two counts. The character he wrote was not based on Black Lightning as created by me. It was Black Lightning created by me. Nor was Trevor von Eeden, as much as he contributed artistically to my first series, an actual co-creator of Black Lightning.

The further revised creator line of “Created by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden" began appearing immediately after I inquired about buying out DC’s interest in Black Lightning. This was not, as I saw it then and see it today, remotely a coincidence. The DC editor/executive who allowed it was attempting to diminish my ownership claim to the character.

Some will claim that the original Black Lightning costume, in which my friend Trevor played a key role, is worthy of co-creator status. However, there were three other people involved in designing that original costume. I came up with the lightning piping on the suit and what I called the “Captain America boots.” Bob Rozakis came up with the Afro-mask. Joe Orlando opened up the shirt on the original costume because he wanted to show more of the hero’s black skin. Trevor pulled it all together with his own design elements. It was a good looking costume for the times. Disco was fun in the 1970s, too, but its time has passed as well.

There have been several Black Lightning costumes since then. None have materially changed the nature of my creation. Yes, some less-than-adequate writers have screwed up the character, but, today, in the new comic-book series and the TV series, we again have a Black Lightning faithful to my creation’s core values. With nary an Afro-mask or 1970s disco vibe in sight. Still, times have changed since 1976 and a newer sensibility is in place when it comes to listing the creators of comic books and comic-book characters.

Current comics industry standard is to list both the writer and the artist as co-creators. Do not mistake this convention for absolute accuracy. Sometimes a writer is the actual creator. Sometimes the artist is the actual creator. Sometimes an editor plays a key role in the creator of a character. The comics industry standard is more a convenience for the bookkeepers than verifiable historical fact. Editor Mort Weisinger was, at the very least, a co-creator of Green Arrow and Aquaman and other characters launched during his tenure at DC Comics, but you never see him created as such.

When DC Comics and I started negotiating an agreement to cover our past and future relationship, the Black Lightning creator line was a vital part of those negotiations. Some of the suggestions would have taken up two or three lines of copy, much as does the current credit on the Superman titles. I thought the longer suggestions for Black Lightning were clunky. The line that all parties eventually agreed upon was one suggested and written by me: Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor von Eeden. That’s the credit line DC is legally obligated to use at all times.

SIDEBAR. That official credit line will probably not be used in the TV series. I was given the choice of two credit lines for the show. I chose the one preferred by Warner Bros because I recognize that comic books and TV shows, even those that draw from the same basic material and share the same core values, are not the same thing. I don’t know how the credit line for Salim and Mara Brock Akil will read in the TV series, but they definitely deserve to be credited for their work in developing and creating the TV version of Black Lightning. And I’m 100% fine with that. END OF SIDEBAR.

Here’s what the “with” in the official Black Lightning credit line means to me:

It means that I am the sole creator of Black Lightning while also recognizing Trevor’s contribution to the art of the original 1970s series. I never wanted Trevor to be ignored. I always wanted my friend to share in the financial rewards earned from the character. But do I consider him the co-creator of Black Lightning? I do not. I consider him the co-creator of Tobias Whale and some of the other supporting characters in the first 1970s series because, based on my script descriptions, he designed those characters. That’s what the official credit line means to me.

If you disagree with the above, well, that’s why I wrote the credit line to be somewhat ambiguous. However, whether you disagree with my interpretation, the official credit line is the official credit line. If you don’t use it, you commit an error of fact. Or, as in the case of one seedy comics news site, you’re just being bloody assholes. How sad to have that be one’s main claim to fame.

In the best of all possible worlds, when writers write about movies and TV shows born of comics, they would credit the comics creators who conceived the characters and situations in those shows. After all, it only takes one more sentence to say Green Arrow was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp. When you have an ensemble show like Legends of Tomorrow that features multiple leads, I understand not listing every creator of every character in your news article. I accept that most mainstream writers don’t care about or even know the writers and artists who created the characters. That’s a change that will be long time coming. If it ever comes.

But when it comes to comics websites - Bleeding Cool, Comics Beat, Comic Book Resources. Comics Reporter and all the others - there’s no excuse not to credit the comic-book creators and to credit them properly. These comics creators are of the tribe, so to speak. They are your people. They deserve your respect. They deserve that one more sentence it takes to show them that respect. To fail to do so is wrong. To deliberately fail to do so is dickish.

That’s what I wanted to say today. I’ll be finishing up some loose ends tomorrow in preparation for my weekend trip to Washington D.C. and the sure-to-be-sensational “DC in D.C.” event that includes the world premieres of the Batman: Gotham By Gaslight animated feature and the Black Lightning TV series.

I’ll be back on Monday, January 15, with the first installment of an entire week’s worth of “Black Lightning Beat” columns. We’ve got a lot to talk about. See you on Monday.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

RAWHIDE KID WEDNESDAY 132

RESOLVED: The Rawhide Kid is my favorite western comics character and one of my favorite comics characters period.  This is why I’ve written over a hundred columns about him. Something about his short stature, but large courage, honor and fighting skills speaks to me.  After rereading the Kid’s earliest adventures when Marvel reprinted them in a pair of Marvel Masterworks and an Essential Rawhide Kid volume, I decide to reacquire every Rawhide Kid comic, reread them and write about them. We’ve reached the title’s extended twilight.  We’ve seen the last new Rawhide Kid story that will appear in the now-bimonthly reprint series. This is the 132nd installment of my “Rawhide Kid Wednesday” columns.

The Rawhide Kid #145 [May 1978] has a cover by Gene Colan (pencils) and Alan Weiss (inks). It’s an exciting cover, but it has nothing to do with the story inside the issue. Which might be a good thing as it turns out.
                                                                              

This issue reprints “Shotgun to Deadwood” from The Rawhide Kid #61 [December 1967]. The 17-page tale was written by Gary Friedrich, penciled by Dick Ayers and inked by Vince Colletta. Remarkably and unfortunately, this is the fourth time the story appeared in this series. It was reprinted earlier in Rawhide Kid #93 [November 1971) and Rawhide Kid #132 [March 1976].

I say “unfortunately” because the story is one of the most racist treatments of Native Americans in Marvel’s western comics. When I first discussed it on July 10, 2103, I wrote:

The story’s portrayal of Native Americans leaves a real bad taste in my mouth.  No demeaning cliche is ignored.  They are “redskins” and "savages."  They are working for Black Jack because he gives them “firewater.” They turn tail and run the moment they are faced with more than one gunfighter. Bad stuff.

You can read that entire column here.
                                                                                

The inside front cover of this issue is an ad for the new Pizzazz magazine. Unlike the Pizzazz ad in the previous issue, I think this one might have come out of the Marvel bullpen. At the very least, it features a quartet of Marvel heroes.

The paid ads were the usual mix. The half-page Jack Davis werewolf as for Slim Jim meat snacks was back. The rest of the page was the Grit newspaper recruitment ad for salesmen to hawk the paper. This time out, it took the form of a badly-drawn “The Adventures of Gritboy” comic strip.
                                                                                      

The Official Star Wars Fan Club has a full-page ad. The membership fee was five bucks, for which you got a poster, a transfer for a t-shirt, a jacket patch, a self-stick color decal, a Star Wars book cover, newsletter, membership card, an 8 by 10 color photo and also a wallet-size photo. The items were said to have been designed for the exclusive use of the fan club.

The usual three pages of classified ads are down to two-and-a-half pages this issue. There are 23 ads for mail-order dealers selling comic books, down just one from the previous issue. Also back is an ad for comics storage bags. The cost is three bucks per a hundred 3 mil bags.
                                                                                
Running through the other non-comics ads: Park-Rider skateboards; Universal muscle-building; Clark candy bars; a mail-order course in customizing cars and such; Sales Leadership Club soliciting folks to sell greeting cards for prizes or cash; 100 little dolls for $3; Fun Factory novelty items; Mike Marvel’s strong arms exercises; a secret agent spy-scope for your budding voyeur; and Olympic Sales Club looking for any suckers the Sales Leadership Club didn’t hook. The back cover ad was for Louisville Slugger collectors items like a bat ballpoint pen with a Johnny Bench autograph (fifty cents) and your choice of a bat pen and pencil set featuring autographs from either Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose ($1).  
                                                                                

Superhero Merchandise aka Heroes World has its usual full-page ad, but this one is focused on Star Wars. A Darth Vader costume with cape and mask cost $5.44 (including shipping). A “lazar sword” was $8.70. A selection of Star Wars books were also offered, ranging in price from $2 to $8.45. The Heroes Worlds ads were produced by Joe Kubert and his Kubert School students. There seems to be a lot of Kubert himself in this ad.

This issue’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page listed Archie Goodwin as editor; Jim Shooter as associate editor; Roger Stern, Jo Duffy, Ralph Macchio and Jim Salicrup as assistant editors; Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby as consulting editors; John Romita and Marie Severin as art directors; John Verpoorten as the production manager; and Irving Forbush as Fast-acting enzyme.

“Stan Lee’s Soapbox” tells of a young Virginia Polytech University professor who remarked sadly that the column seemed to have moved from Stan talking about philosophy and such to just plugging Marvel products. Our fearless leader promises the column will once again be what it once was.

In other news...

Marvel won a bunch of Great Britain’s 1976 Eagle Awards. Howard the Duck won for Favorite New Comic and Favorite Humor Comic with Steve Gerber and John Buscema winning Favorite Single Comic Book Story. Conan was voted Favorite Comic Book Character with Savage Sword of Conan getting Favorite Dramatic Comics Magazine. Chris Claremont won Favorite British Comics Writer for his work on Captain Britain. X-Men was named Favorite Dramatic Comic.

Special releases in February included Spider-Man Pocket Book #2, a reprint collection. Also released were a Marvel Treasury Edition starring the Defenders and Crazy Magazine’s “Annual Idiot Issue.”

The Bullpen welcomed Dickie McKenzie as a new Marvel proofreader.

Artist Bob Hall was lauded for both his comics work and for “The Passion of Dracula,” a stage play. That was followed by a plug for Tomb of Dracula by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.

The page ended with a “Coming Soon” image of Ms. Marvel in her new costume. Which I seem to recall was designed by Dave Cockrum.
                                                                          

This month’s comic-book style Hostess ad was “Thor Meets A Glutton for Gold.” The villainous Gudrun the Golden wants all the gold in Asgard, but is distracted from his goal by “golden bars of rich, moist cake. AKA Twinkies. Based on my limited art detective skills, I think John Buscema penciled this one-page strip.
                                                                                 

The last editorial page of this issue is a three-fourths of a page illustration of the Outlaw Kid by John Romita, Jr. Along with the drawing is the announcement that, beginning next issue, the Outlaw Kid will be joining the Rawhide Kid line-up of western super-stars. Four-page Outlaw Kid reprints will appear from issues #146 through #151, the final issue of the title.
                                                                              

The bottom fourth of this page is annual “Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation” required by law. In the previous year, the average total paid circulation of The Rawhide Kid was 108,622 copies per issue, down from the previous year’s 143,972. For the single issue nearest to the filling date, the title sold 104,171 copies, down from the previous year’s 129,305. This year’s numbers continued the downward trend. The total paid circulation of Rawhide Kid was 98,978. The paid circulation of the issue published nearest to the September 20, 1977 filing date was 96,378. When I worked at Marvel circa 1973 or so, I was once told that any title that sold less than 100,000 copies was likely to be cancelled.

That wraps up this installment of “Rawhide Kid Wednesday.” We have but six more issues to go until we reach the end of the trail for this title. Look for the next rip-roaring installment in just seven short days.

Tomorrow’s bloggy thing will be the first of several installments of “Black Lightning Beat.” With the Black Lightning TV show getting a star-studded premiere in Washington D.C. this week, with the show making its CW premiere on Tuesday, January 16, and with the great reviews the six-issue Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands comic book series is receiving, I decided to devote the rest of this week and most of next week to Black Lightning. Besides, it’s all anyone asks me about of late.

Power up, my friends. I’ll see you tomorrow.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

TONY'S TIPS #241

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Invincible Iron Man, Infamous Iron Man, Tara O’Connor’s Roots and Megumi Morino’s Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty!

Friday, January 5, 2018

ADDENDUM

While the bloggy thing will be back on Wednesday and Thursday, there will be no bloggy things on Friday through Sunday as I will be at the "DC Comics at D.C." event in Washington, D.C.