If you read Comic Buyers Guide or visit Tony's Online Tips, you
already know who Tony Isabella is. For those that don't, he's a long
time writer who has also been an editor and comic shop owner. He has
recently been getting some freelance work and he is here to tell us
about his work, his past and some things he's involved with outside of
What do you do differently that separates you from most comic writers?
I don't know; maybe my deodorant isn't strong enough.
Which method of writing do you use most and prefer? "Marvel Style" or
I've been using full script almost exclusively for several years because
that's what was requested by the artist or required by the editor. However,
I went with "Marvel Style" on my MARVEL COMICS: DAREDEVIL story with Eddy
Newell because a) I wanted to make sure I still remembered how to do it, and
b) Eddy and I wanted to show we could do it. However, I should point out
that my plots are fairly detailed. They even include some dialogue.
I don't have a strong preference for one method over another. I'm adaptable
to the needs of the story, the needs of the artist, and the needs of the
I know you're doing a Daredevil one-shot. When is it coming out and what
is it about?
It's one of six "Marvels Comics" one-shots; these are the comic books
published within the Marvel Universe itself. They come out at the end of May.
Ours features a Daredevil unlike any you've seen. Eddy has done his usual
magnificent best to make me look good.
And that's all you're getting out of me.
I think that a reader spending $2.25 for a comic book deserves to experience
all the surprises within that comic book first-hand and not after having
already read about them elsewhere. I'm proud of this story; I want my
readers to get all they can out of it.
In the May edition of Gauntlet Magazine you tell a story about Jim
Shooter nixing a Ghost Rider story you wrote which had some religious
elements in it. Do you think he did that because he wasn't religious himself?
I think he did it mostly because he could, although I was also told at
the time that he was an agnostic and the story offended him. I think if you
look at interviews from creators who were working at Marvel at the time--I
left for DC shortly after he came on staff--you'll see a picture of an
arrogant guy who didn't really know too much about the Marvel Universe. He
certainly never grasped that he was trampling on the conclusion of a
two-year story approved and supported by three previous editors.
Do you have any other stories that didn't make it to Gauntlet that you
can share here?
I think I covered the Ghost Rider stuff pretty thoroughly in that
article. As for other stories, heck, I've got lots of them...and if I keep
writing a daily online column I'll probably get to them all by next Thursday.
Do you have any new work you can announce yet?
Sadly, no. I don't like to announce stuff until I've finished it and
been paid for it. I do have a project awaiting a contract, various
proposals being looked at by various editors, and a number of characters and
concepts I'm developing.
However, out on the stands now is the first chapter of the three- issue
back-up serial I wrote for Claypool's ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK #83-85.
It's a little ditty called "Better Read Than Dead." It's sort of a parable
for our times involving Elvira, a library bookmobile, and a censorious group
called Protect Our Old People.
It was a very satisfying story to write.
You've been doing daily columns at Tony's Online Tips
for a long time. Do you think your column is
responsible for you getting your recent assignments?
I think it's certainly helped. It keeps my name out there before the
readers and those editors savvy enough to appreciate/understand online
promotion. And it's also been a useful tool for promoting the assignments I
Case in point: CAPTAIN AMERICA: LIBERTY'S TORCH, the novel I wrote with Bob
Ingersoll. It had the best sell-through of any of the Marvel novels to that
point; an impressive number of copies were sold through my website via
In your column, you are a big booster of Archie Comics. Why?
I honestly enjoy their titles. The late Frank Doyle was one of the best
comic-book writers in the history of our industry. George Gladir has done
many excellent scripts as well. And Craig Boldman has turned JUGHEAD into
one of my favorite comics.
I also think the rest of the industry can learn a lot from Archie Comics.
Their characters are among the most visible in comics and I've found their
digest magazines in nearly every supermarket I've ever visited.
Their comics are wholesome reading for younger readers, though I'd like to
see more variation in the body types and skin colors of the high school
Finally, Archie serves a segment of the comics-reading public that is
generally ignored by all other publishers and most direct market
retailers. I think they can attract new readers to our stores and to a
lifelong love of comics.
With Tony's Online Tips, you do a lot of comic-book reviews. How
many comic books get sent to you per week or month?
I've never kept a strict count, but it's over 300 items a month.
I try to read as many as I can, but I have to set aside some time to
actually write the columns...and to take care of my kids...and to answer
What comics do you buy on a regular basis?
Very few. Mostly stuff I don't get sent for free and off-brand titles
that seem interesting. I do buy extra copies of everything I write because
my relatives are much too cheap to buy copies for themselves.
Okay, I'm going to spill the beans. You were the secret "Deep Postage"
compiler of The X-Files letters pages for Topps Comics. I understand there
were quite a few behind the scenes problems doing those comics. Can you tell
us some stories about the problems you faced?
The basic problem was that whoever was approving the comics over in Chris
Carter Land were the poster kids for anal retentiveness.
Although it's possible that they were so picky because they never wanted the
comics out there in the first place.
The main reason the comics fell behind schedule was because it took so long
to satisfy the X-Files people. They went over *everything* with a
fine-tooth comb, including the letters columns.
After I had written a couple of letters pages, I started writing them 50-75%
longer than Topps could actually fit into the issues. That way, after the
X-Files folks made their cuts, Topps still had enough to fill the pages.
This also saved me from having to return to completed columns and add
I rarely ran negative letters in these columns because the editors were
afraid that the X-Files people would want even more changes in the material.
Almost from the start, there were never enough useable letters for our
needs. That's why I started including the "Deep Postage" news items...and
making up letters completely.
I also wrote the Xena letters columns, but those were a lot easier to produce.
Do you know why Topps Comics stopped publishing comic books?
Given the market conditions, falling sales, and the difficulties in
producing their best-selling title, which was The X-Files, the company opted
to get out of comics for the time being.
I hope Topps gets back into comics publishing in the future because they
were a terrific client. They paid well. They paid fast. And the people I
worked with were very professional.
You are best known as the creator of Black Lightning. I was curious what
kind of research did you do before creating him?
The first series didn't require much research. Although it was somewhat
grittier than other DC super-hero comics of the time, it was still
The second series was much more realistic. I did research for two years
before writing the first issue. I went to Cleveland's inner city,
interviewed all sorts of people, tutored gang kids, and did my best to get
it as right as I could without losing the fantastic elements entirely.
You have often said that another writer doing Black Lightning would be like
crossing the picket line. Why do you feel that way?
I'll try to make this short.
I was unfairly fired from the title I created, a title on which I was doing
the best work of my career. As far as I'm concerned, this is an ongoing
labor dispute between myself and DC and will remain so until they do the
right thing by me. Which the company will likely never do.
There's a lot of history between myself and DC over my creation of Black
Lightning. Promises that weren't kept. The fabrication that the artist of
the first series was a co-creator of the character. The failure to promote
the use of the character outside the comics industry to any great extent.
And so on.
Given all this, my position is that no one other than myself should write
Black Lightning. I'm ready and able to write as many Black Lightning comics
as DC is willing to publish. They need no other writers for this creation
Some of your fans know you went through a serious period of depression,
can you tell us about that?
I was diagnosed with clinical depression around the time I was
fired from Black Lightning. I probably had it all my life, but it was that
event...along with some personal problems in my life which shall remain
personal...which triggered self-destructive behavior on my part and
convinced me to seek medical help.
I got some therapy. I got some drugs. The first worked well, the second
didn't. Eventually, my therapist and I found other ways for me to deal with
my depression. Being here for my kids was the most powerful motivating
factor in my improved condition.
I'll suffer from depression my entire life, but it's an enemy that I know
and that knowledge gives me power over it. There are more than a few graves
on which I want to dance; I intend to live long enough to accomplish that
Outside of comics, you are running for the board of your local (Medina
County) Library. Can you tell all the stuff you do that's
involved with that and how is it going?
One doesn't run for a position on the board, one applies. When there are
vacancies on the board, they are filled--alternately--by the Medina County
Commissioners and the presiding judge of the Medina Court. I've applied for
the last two openings and never got as far as an actual interview.
The Commissioners eliminated me because I had an agenda, which is to say I
think the First Amendment is a good thing. The judge went with the typical
political hack; God forbid he should appoint an average citizen to the board.
Currently, I have "divorced" myself from participation in library matters in
protest of the board's decision to put filters on some of the library's
computers. It was a blatant attempt to mollify the Medina Christian
Coalition and didn't even succeed on that base level. The cowardice of the
current board disgusts me.
I've been exploring the possibility of legal action to overturn the board's
decision, but, without the assistance of the Ohio branch of the American
Civil Liberties Union, that probably won't happen. I don't have the
financial means or legal expertise to challenge the board without help...and
the ACLU has turned down my every request for assistance.
I still support the ACLU. I know the organization doesn't have the manpower
to fight every battle. But it was very disappointing when they walked away
from this one. Especially since they had gotten involved with library
You were also a comic book store owner for a while. Can you tell us more
Cosmic Comics was easily the most successful comics shop in the Cleveland
area for nine of the eleven years I owned it. We had a full line of
comics--the only store that did--and a good selection of magazines and
I enjoyed running the store and serving my customers, but I wanted to get
back to full-time writing. Seven years into the gig, I was ready to sell,
but my waste-of-oxygen attorney was never able to find a buyer who could
actually afford to pay me even a fraction of what it was worth.
Unfortunately, Cosmic Comics lost its location...right on the heels of my
suffering a considerable financial loss from my involvement with the
International Superman Expo of 1988. The new location was so awful that I
couldn't hire or keep good employees. This led to an increase in employee
theft and in shoplifting.
Add the afore-mentioned attorney, later disbarred from the practice of the
law, albeit not soon enough to help me, and the store became a money pit for
the last two years of its existence. I didn't make a dime from it in those
It'll make a heck of a book someday. Might do for comic shops what Psycho
did for motels.
As a former editor, retailer and long-time freelancer, you have a wide
perspective on the industry. What do you think needs to be done to improve it?
We must look beyond the Direct Sales Market, beyond the flavors of the
month, and beyond the editors and publishers who have slim
knowledge--creative or historical--of the comics art form. And we must stop
pissing off the readers who have stuck with us for years and years waiting
for us to get our acts together.
That and hire me a lot more often.
I was wondering what your opinion is on current legal battles between
Marvel and creators over the rights of characters, battles
such as Joe Simon with Captain America, Marv Wolfman over Blade, etc...
I hope they win and win big. The comics industry has treated creators
abominably since its earliest days. I'd love to see these guys balance the
scales a bit.
As far as I'm concerned, if the comics industry can only exist by treating
its creators poorly, then it doesn't deserve to exist one more day.
Anything else you want to say?
Often readers ask why I'm not writing more comics. They ask the same
question of many other comics creators as well. The answer, more often that
not, is that editors and publishers aren't hiring us. If they hire us, we
will write and draw.
If readers want to see more comics by favorite writers and artists, by
creators who aren't this month's flavor, they absolutely must do three things...
One. Let the editors and publishers know, frequently and politely, that
you're ready to give them your hard-earned cash for new comics by these
Two. Actually buy the comics we do. Let's suppose, for example, that
MARVELS COMICS: DAREDEVIL #1 turns out to be the best-selling of the six
specials. Odds are someone might figure Eddy and I had a little to do with
that success...and that someone might hire us for more projects.
Three. Assuming you like the comics we do, write the editors and publishers
and let them know you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us.
Tell your retailer you liked them and are eager to buy more comics by us.
Tell your fellow readers you liked them and convince them to buy more comics
Thanks. You've been a lovely audience. Don't forget to tip the interviewer
as you leave. He's been working his way through beauty school and obviously
needs all the help he can get.