Monday, April 23, 2018


This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Black Lightning Season One on Blu-ray and DVD; Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay; The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl ; and a special issue of Roy Thomas' Alter Ego!

Sunday, April 22, 2018



In going through my files, I have started coming across a variety of pitches I sent to publishers over the years. Some date back to before I start working in comics professionally. I thought my bloggy readers might enjoy seeing these concepts that didn’t go any further than my initial pitches. Since “never say never” is kind of a mantra of mine, I won’t entirely rule out by revisiting them in the future, but, for now, I have no plans for them.

COUNT VARGA, VAMPIRE was an idea I pitched to my dear friend Larry Lieber during the brief existence of Atlas Comics in the 1970s. I loved working with Larry, but, alas, both Atlas and my time in New York came to a close before the end of 1976.

Here’s the pitch, which was written in 1974:

One of Marvel’s most successful books is TOMB OF DRACULA. One of the more successful monster movies of late was a film called COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, featuring a modern-day blood-stalker on the loose in Los Angeles.


Count Varga is at once a traditional vampire and a departure from  previous depictions of the vampire. He’s a very modern-day vampire. While Marvel’s Dracula looks archaic despite its modern setting, Count Yorga will be set in downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and other 1974 locales.

Count Varga is a youngish vampire, between 25-30 years old. An American, he becomes inflicted with the curse of the vampire while visiting his ancestral home in Transylvania. His greedy purpose in visiting the site was to prove his claim on the ancient family fortunes, having squandered away a similar fortune in the United States. He’s bitten, dies and returns as a vampire. But he is not at all displeased with this.

Varga sees his vampiric condition as a chance to gain greater power and wealth than he’d ever thought possible. He plans to use his powers towards this end.

That’s the departure. As for tradition:
Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Varga will be able to appear during the day. He just doesn’t have his powers during the daylight hours. He’ll have all the traditional powers of the vampire during the night, including several Dracula doesn’t use over at Marvel. Such as the ability to become a rat or a wolf, control of the elements, etc. In short, he’ll be more than a match for the world he will be plotting to conquer.

As far as supporting characters go, we’ll have a variety of people in exciting professions to choose from. California is full of cool jobs and cool people. I would think our Count would have several regularly featured servants and friends. Maybe some of his friends would not know he’s a vampire. These can be created when we begin actual work on the series.

Protagonists for Count Varga?

I can think of several. A detective investigating some vampire-inflicted deaths. A cult of witches who oppose Varga because they want to gain power themselves. A reporter snooping into Varga’s past. And so on.

With the right artist and mood, we can have a top-seller.
My hazy memory is that I wrote the above pitch and then brought it to Larry. We spent a couple late hours in the Atlas offices during that period. Sometimes I’d help him with cover copy. Sometimes we would talk over ideas and Larry would sketch them out. He drew the Count Varga sketch shown above.

Though Count Varga is clearly derivative, that was something comics publishers always looked for. Few of them wanted to be the first to publish a successful concept. They wanted to be the second. A year later, while I was at DC, I sold the company on several new titles by framing them as “DC’s version of fill in name of Marvel title." I didn't stick around DC long enough to do them for reasons you can probably figure out.

In the case of Varga, I was a great admirer of Marv Wolfman’s work on Tomb of Dracula. I had written some Dracula stories for Dracula Lives! I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could hold my own working Marv’s side of the street.

I own Count Varga, Vampire. Maybe I’ll...excuse me...revamp him for another shot at the big time someday. Only time will tell.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff, but I have no idea what that stuff will be. I’ve got several bloggy things in the works and it will depend on which is closest to completion. But, whatever shows up here, I hope you’ll stop by to check it out.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Saturday, April 21, 2018



In going through my files, I have started coming across a variety of pitches I sent to publishers over the years. Some date back to before I start working in comics professionally.

I thought my bloggy readers might enjoy seeing these concepts that didn’t go further than my original pitches. Since “never say never” is a mantra of mine, I won’t entirely rule out by revisiting them in the future, but, for now, I have no plans for them.

That’s probably a good thing in the case of today’s first attempt. Near as I can figure, this story synopsis is from 1971 or 1972. I had been corresponding with and chatting on the phone with Roy Thomas. At the time, I was working for the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a copy assistant who very occasionally wrote something for the newspaper. Roy invited me to pitch a Conan plot, which, if it met his liking, he would buy and then script.

I was neither a Conan expert nor a big fan of sword-and-sorcery. I had read the Conan paperbacks published by Lancer. I had enjoyed a few of Fritz Leiber’s Fafnir and the Grey Mouser stories. I was a big fan of Roy’s Conan comic books.

This was during the “social relevance” phase comics went through in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Somehow, I convinced myself that I could do “social relevance” in Conan. Now I absolutely believe that is possible. It just wasn’t something I could do back then.

I give you the Conan story I moronically called...


A flash of mortal lightning crosses the Hyborean plains, some hell-bound warrior off to meet his destiny. Dressed in the silver and silk and gold of far Hyrkania, the rider pushes his whimpering mount beyond its endurance. Yet it continues. The rider seems to be unfeeling, as if he had no soul. And, indeed, he does not!

What is friendship in the barbaric era between the sinking of fables Atlantis and the dawning of recorded history? The man that wields a strong sword and does not run it through you when the act would benefit him is, indeed, a friend. And also a fool.

But even a fool deserves proper honors on his death. And the Cimmerian youth Conan has paused in his travels along the Hyborean  highways to pay his late Gunderman companion his due respects. In the inn of Balik along the Road of Kings, Conan quaffs his ale and feasts on roasted pig, giving proper respect to Nestor even as his memory floats away.

Conan’s gluttony angers a Kothian thief who, no doubt, covets the barbarian’s rich purse, the gift of a grateful Corinthian aristocrat. Though unsure whether he fights one foe or many - Conan is not used to strong Hyborean brew - the young barbarian thinks he must teach these civilized dogs proper respect for the dead and for fine Brythunian steel.

Conan rises from his table and stares through the clouded ale he has been drinking. His foe and all the other customers of this inn, as well as the inhabitants, are unmoving as statues. A curse escapes from Conan’s lips as a devilishly cold breeze barely lands on his broad shoulders. He turns...

A man stands before Conan. He is elderly, but the man’s form leaves no doubt as the power of those old limbs. He is garbed in the finest silk, embroidered with ancient symbols. The man has but to glance at Conan’s arm and Conan finds himself lowering that fine sword of his.

The newcomer is a wizard from far-off Khitai. That Conan can grasp through his intoxicated stupor. The wizard wishes to hire the young Cimmerian for a single mission and he offers a bag of gold besides which Conan’s own pales into nothingness. Conan, confused by that fine beverage of Balak’s and tempted by the wealth that the wizard offers, forgets his natural aversion to sorcerers and accepts. As he does so, he is struck by strange images. The wizard’s voice is forming these images into a tale of sorcery and of doom.

The wizard’s story:

In far-off Khitai, two powerful wizards live. Unlike wizards elsewhere, they do not battle for each other’s lands. The wizards, Philcon and Marcon, are father and son. They are content to exist in this world without exercising their great powers except to provide for themselves and occasionally aid a mortal towards a well-deserved prize or an equally deserved doom. They have existed for longer than either of them can remember.

But Philcon feels the weight of the ages creeping up on a mortal frame that should have broken centuries ago. He does not fear death, but can not bear for life to go on without him. Perhaps he has been driven mad by the weight that crushes him, but he has put into operation a plan to doom the world in the near future.

Philcon has exacted a frightening payment for past favors from a young Hyrkanian noble. He has intertwined their souls and given the young man a fearsome mission. Placed on a beast that will not stop galloping until the mission of completed, the young Hyrkanian sets off for the Western Sea. When he reaches that world-spanning body of water, he will pour a mystic potion into it.

The vile potion will immediately begin its grim work. It can poison the tiniest forms of life in the sea almost immediately and these will, in turn, poison the larger forms of life, including Man! The floating dead will poison the actual waters. The dead waters will poison the land wherever it touches it. And, in turn, these poisoned lands shall cover the entire earth. Within a mere matter of a hundred years, the earth will be dead.

The wizard’s story concludes with a final image of the purple sunset over the Hyborean plains and the grim rider who speeds ever closer to the Western Sea.

Conan, a simple man, can not understand this talk of destruction coming from an ocean he has never seen. He can not quite get the notion of men living hundreds of years into his skull. But he can understand the gold that the wizard offers him. For such gold, he could kill a thousand men. The wizard asks that he but stop one man. Conan agrees.

The inn fades from view. Conan finds himself on his own strange steed and with the bag of wealth tied around his belt. He notices, somewhat incredulously, that he is traveling the same plain that the rider was crossing in the visions Marcon showed him. And, lifting his eyes, he sees the rider about a thousand yards ahead of him.

The race. Conan’s mount travels faster the Cimmerian is willing to accept as possible. Conan notes in passing that he can no longer feel the effects of the large quantities of alcohol he’d consumed, but dismisses it almost immediately to concentrate on the problem at hand. Any wizard worth his salt can cure a hangover. The problem at had seems much more serious. Conan is hard pressed to catch up with the rider of Philcon.

Spotting a fork in the road and remembering that it will gain him precious time when it again intersects the plain, Conan pushes his mount down it. When he emerges, he is racing neck and neck with the rider of Philcon. There is no way for Conan to half the other horse. Taking a moment to gauge the distance, Conan leaps off his horse, taking the young Hyrkanian to the ground with him. The rider and Conan both jump to their feet almost immediately, hands on their sword hilts.

The young Hyrkanian looks at Conan in puzzlement. Then, as powerful Philcon correctly assesses the situation, the young noble grasps his sword to kill the barbarian. The sword of Conan is also quick to enter the fray. The Cimmerian does not want to kill this young man, but the battle has come down to a basic point. One of them is to die if the other is to live. Conan, his mind his own, quickly gains the advantage and deals the Hyrkanian a mortal blow.

The Hyrkanian lies slumped against a tree and whispers a single name - Noree - into the wind before life departs.

In Khitai, Philcon lies dead, his body rapidly decaying.

From his own castle in Khitai, Marcon looks upon all this and shrugs his shoulders. His father was dead and that was indeed the major tragedy of this episode. The young Hyrkanian was also to be mourned, but such was the fate of all mortals. As for Conan...

Conan has saved the future, though he did not know it. As he would have never saved the future without Marcon's help - and Marcon notes Conan would have a particularly bright future - the wizard decides he deserves the gold more than the barbarian.

Surveying the scene, Conan grunts and feels for the wealth he had tied around his waist. It was gone. He cursed. He should have known better than to trust a wizard. The Cimmerian decides to rummage through his foe’s possession for something saleable. All he finds is a small vial of some liquid. He sniffs at the vial and finds it noxious stuff indeed. Cursing again, he hurls it at a tree. And his heart freezes.

For the minute the liquid had touched the tree, the tree withered and decayed.

Having retyped the above for today’s bloggy thing, I find I like it more than I remembered. Oh, it still has some pretty dumb stuff in it - like the names of the wizards - but it also has a couple of interesting moments and visuals. Maybe I will do something with it someday. What do you think?

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff. Most likely some reviews. See you then.

© 2018 Tony Isabella


My next convention appearance will be at the extraordinary East Coast Comicon, Friday through Sunday, April 27-29, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. This will be my first convention anywhere close to New York City in nearly a decade.

The hours of the show are Friday, 2-8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 6 pm. There is free parking at the exposition center.

Though there will be cosplay at the convention, the event asks that you do not bring any weapons real or fake to proceedings. Do not bring spears, bats, knives, swords, staffs, or any other items blunt or pointed.

The brainchild of Cliff Galbraith, East Coast Comicon prides itself on being focused on comics. From its website:

We make comics, collect comics, and deal in rare underground comix, so we thought we’d like to make a con that embodied our sensibilities. As the major conventions grow exponentially, but focus less on comics, we felt a good old-fashioned con with a strong emphasis on comics was needed.
The comics (and media) guest list is impressive. Listing them all would make today’s bloggy way too long, but I am looking forward to seeing old friends like Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Jim Salicrup, Larry Lieber, Joe Sinnott, Jim Starlin, Billy Tucci and Wendy and Richard Pini. There are also a bunch of comics guests I know in passing and whose work I admire. I’m hoping to meet them and get to know them better.

Among the media guests: animator and artist Kevin Altieri; Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees and Mega-Python Versus Gatoroid, appearing with the Monkee Mobile from the former; actress Lee Meriwether, who played Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie and is appearing with the 1966 Batmobile; producer and director J.J. Sedelmaier; and Larry Storch from F Troop. For a complete list of the guests, comics and media, check out the East Coast Comicon website.

There will be panel discussions throughout the weekend. On Saturday at 3 pm, you can attend “Tony Isabella, Black Lightning and More.” From the convention website:

Black Lightning is currently the star of the hit CW television series starring Cress Williams, but the story behind his 40-year journey to primetime might be even more exciting. Created by writer Tony Isabella with artist Trevor Von Eeden in 1977, Black Lightning was DC Comics’ first black character to headline his own book. Isabella will discuss creating Black Lightning in the 1970s, reviving the character in the 1990s, and returning to him today in the miniseries Cold Dead Hands. What’s next for Black Lightning? Find out here! Moderated by John Trumbull, writer for BACK ISSUE magazine and

I will do my best to answer questions entertainingly and honestly, but keep in mind that there will be questions I can’t answer due to non-disclosure agreements and just plain common courtesy and sense. Trust me; it’ll still be a fun and informative hour.

In addition to the panel discussions, East Coast Comicon fans will find an exhibitors room packed with great stuff, cosplay, gaming, meet and greets, photo ops and more. I’m hoping to see as much of this as humanly possible.

I’ll have a booth or table somewhere at the convention. Since I’m flying to the convention, that limits what I can bring to sell at the event. Currently, I’m planning to bring Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands #1-6; the Black Lightning trade paperbacks; July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume 1; two special Black Lightning posters; and mini-posters of Daredevil and Luke Cage. I will be charging for my signature and some photos at this convention, but you can still get one free signature from me, free signatures on any item you buy from me, and free photos as long as they are not of me signing or holding up an item that I’ve signed. For more details, read my signature policy.

I’m looking forward to meeting the fans at the East Coast Comicon. Hope to see you there.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Thursday, April 19, 2018



Fantastic Four Annual #1 hit the newsstands in July, 1963. It was that extraordinary issue that inspired me to want to write comic books as my career. In honor of that pivotal moment in my life, I’m collecting,  reading and writing about every one of the 136 issues released in that month. My first twenty columns in this series are available in July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella Volume One [Pulp Hero Press; $17.95]. The trade paperback contains revised versions of the columns that appeared in this bloggy thing as well additional material giving readers a glimpse into the world of 1963. My quest continues...

Brain Boy #6 [September-November 1963] was published by Dell, just another short-lived comics title from the company after its split with Western. The bulk of the profitable licensed features remained with Dell’s former partner, who continued publishing them under the Gold Key label.

Brain Boy first appeared in Dell’s Four Color Comics #1330 in 1962. Created by Herb Castle and Gil Kane, the title continued with issues #2-6. In 2013, Dark Horse revived the character for an even more short-lived run.

Brain Boy is Matt Price. His mother was pregnant with him when she and his dad crashed into an electrical tower. Dad died. Mom birthed a mutant with powers: telepathy, levitation, mind-control. He was recruited by another telepath and went to work for one of the many secret government agencies found in comic books from probably every comics publisher there ever was.

Vic Prezio painted the cover of this issue. The prolific Prezio did covers for Dell’s comics, a few for Warren’s black-and-white horror magazines and a great many for what we used to call men’s adventure magazines. The woman in the water would have been at home on one of the men’s adventure mags, though she would likely be menaced by a Nazi torturer or some such.

The inside front cover has “Escape,” a single -page science-fiction  drawn by Frank Springer. A man who wanted to get away from people crash lands on Mars. He figures that, at least, he won’t have to be around people. When he steps from the space ship, he cries out in horror, “ whole universe is full of people! There’s no escape...” Someone needs a hug...or not.

Brain Boy stars in “The Mindless Ones” by Castle with art by Frank Springer. The 27-page story has Matt’s boss ordering him to go on vacation after handling five of their agency’s most difficult cases over the past two years. Matt is totally on board with this order. He drives to the little town of Bondocks in the Canadian backwoods for fishing, hiking and sleeping.

Things get weird as soon as he gets close to the town. Asking a man for directions to the Blue Lake Lodge, he gets a rave review of the lake with the entreaty that he swim in said lake. The man speaks in a dull voice and shows no expression

When Matt asks the same of a pretty young woman and her younger brother, he’s answered with the same dull voices and the same lack of expression. But the woman offers to show him how to get to the lake in exchange for a ride.

A fallen log blocks the road. Then Matt watches as a weird funeral in the woods goes by. Grabbed by two pallbearers, he learns they’d blocked the road on purpose. Adopting the dull manner and voice of these odd people, he convinces them that he’s on his way to swim in the lake. They clears the way for him.

Once Matt gets to the Lodge, everyone is most interested in getting him in the lake as soon as possible. He puts them off and meets the loutish Carl Cherman, also a stranger to this place. The beautiful young woman Matt had met earlier has no trouble getting Cherman to join her for a swim in the lake.

Swimming in the lake turns out to be more of a demand than a polite suggestion. Cherman quickly becomes like the others and tries to pull Matt into the lake. Matt decks him.

Trying to row away, Matt is confronted by the unsettling sight of the entire town in the lake. He barely escapes, but they soon catch him and force him to go swimming. Something in the lake attempts to take control of Matt’s mind. He resists, but pretends to be under the control of that something.

That something are microscopic aliens who arrived in a meteor-like ball of metal. They need the townspeople to take them to the lake as part of their plan to conquer the Earth.

After trying dozens of poisons on the lake water, Matt lucks into the answer. Electricity kills the aliens. All it takes is a radio and an absurdly long electrical cord. The townspeople wake up from the mind control with no idea of why they are all at the lake or who Matt is.

Going back to the spaceship, Matt knows he must destroy the rest of the aliens before they can infect any other humans. Sensing Matt is near them, the aliens all leave the ship in a thick spray only to miss Matt entirely. Since they can’t live outside of water or the human bloodstream, they all die. An exhausted Matt falls asleep and vows to take no more vacations.

This is a quietly chilling story, made all the more so by the mind-controlled humans and settings being so mundane. With or without Brain Boy, it would have made a terrific horror movie in the 1960s.

“The Devil Worshiper” is a single-page prose story by an unknown writer. A young man comes to a German village near the Black Forest wanting to buy land for a store. An old man tells him the location he wants is cursed and explains his comment:

Many years prior, a ambitious but poor young man made a deal with the devil for the land and the money to open a store. On the man’s chest, the devil seared the words “Mr. Devil” and “Till Death Us Two Join!”

The young man built a fabulous store and became rich. Worried about the fate of his soul, he burned the store to the ground and threw away all his money. The old man is that young man. The would-be entrepreneur laughs:

“And if I examine your chest, I’ll see the name is gone and you’re free of the Devil, right? How stupid do you think I am to believe a child’s fairy tale!”

The old man opens his shirt and offers to sell his land. Which is when the visitor runs away and never returns to the village.

There’s a good reason I never read many of these prose stories back in 1963. The vast majority of them were as bad as this one.

The Strange Mr. Ozimandias was a back-up series unrelated to Brain Boy. These short comics stories were included in Dell and Gold Key comics to qualify them for second class mailing. “Devil’s Acres’ is drawn by Springer, but the writer of this four-page story has not been identified at this time.

Mike Ozimandias studied at a Tibetan lamasery and earned a red dot on his forehead, said to be the sign of the master. Vacationing at the remote backwoods summer home of a friend, Mike - that really is his name - sees a neighbor performing “the fertility rite of blood and growth” to turn his barren land into lush prime land. If this works, the man will buy every cheap piece of desert he can and do the same with them.

Mike warns him of the danger. The neighbor doesn’t care and pulls a gun on Ozimandias. Before their startled eyes, foliage begins to burst through the barren soil.

Mike races to the city to find a counter-spell. He succeeds, but, when he returns to the backwoods, the primitive foliage has grown to deadly proportions. The neighbor dies before the deadly plants are destroyed.

“Devil’s Acres” is has an incredibly wordy script. Even with all of that dialogue, the story still feels crammed into its four pages. As for Mike Ozimandias, he comes off like a third-rate imitation of Ibis the Invincible and other turbaned magicians of the comics and movies. Not a great piece of work.

The inside back cover ad offers 147 Famous Automobiles for $1.98. Made of pure plastic styrene, the cars come in a special garage box for easy storage. Buyers would get three each of 49 models, among them a 1915 Buick, a 1930 Cord, a 1943 Nash, a 1949 Hudson, a 1958 Ford Thunderbird and more.

The back cover was a Wallace Brown ad seeking salespeople to sell their Christmas cards and more. If you know 20 people, the company claims, you can make at least $50 and more likely $100 to $200 in your spare time. Gee, I have nearly 5000 Facebook friends. I could become a millionaire!

I hope you’re enjoying my “July 1963" bloggy things as much as I’m enjoying tracking down these old comes, reading them and writing about them. Look for another installment of this series in the very near future. 

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


I post today’s bloggy thing with some trepidation. But, this being the age of anonymous trolls and downright silly rumormongers, and having heard some shit several times over the past couple weeks, I want to make something as clear as I possibly can.

I’m not under exclusive contract to any client or publisher. I've made no secret of what I’d most like to write next, but, while I am hoping/wanting for that to happen...


If you're an editor or publisher who has read Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands and who doesn't think I would be a great hire...

If you're an editor, publisher, movie or TV maker who's seen the  Black Lightning TV series, a terrific series that would not exist without me, and who doesn't think I would be a great hire...

If you're an editor, publisher, movie maker, TV maker, convention organizer or educator who has read what I’ve written over the past 45 years, seen my tireless dedication to promoting terrific stuff, doing publicity for terrific stuff, entertaining fans and educating students and who doesn't think you want me on your team...

...I literally don't know what to say to you. You leave me utterly baffled.

I have a whole lot of productive years ahead of me. There is much more in the creative well that birthed Black Lightning. Yes, I have hundreds of personal projects I’m working on. I may even make those projects available to editors, publishers, movie and TV makers if I’m offered acceptable terms. But most of these projects won't pay off for a while. Hence this message.

I'm available for and interested in accepting paying work that’s challenging, fun or worthwhile. All three would be wonderful.

For those of you out there would mock this message from underneath the bridges you call home or call me crass/desperate for putting it out in public, save it. I'm guessing that, in almost every case, I have accomplished much more while entertaining many more readers in my career than you have in your lifetime of delusional fantasies of having such a career.

I do great work with clean hands, a good heart and a dedication to my craft. I would love to work with someone like me. 
This bloggy thing is a “no bullshit” zone. Always has been. Always will be. That’s all I have to say today.

Interested parties should e-mail me. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible and, with me, a lot is possible.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2018 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Werewolf by Night Omnibus, nearly 1200 pages of 1970s comics and features by Doug Moench, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Don Perlin, Mike Ploog and others; Bingo Love by Tee Franklin with artist Jenn St-Onge; and Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi Case by Victor Santos!