Imagine Your Story- RiverCon Interview with Tony Isabella

Tony Isabella walking the red carpet at the Black Lightning premiere event, Washington DC, 2018. Photo courtesy of Tony Isabella.

Welcome back to our RiverCon interview series! RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our summer reading inspired RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” amazing local comic artists and authors from home! Each Thursday morning from now until July 2nd you can read a new interview.

This week we hear from another fantastically talented Cleveland native, Tony Isabella. Tony is a comic book writer, editor, artist, and critic- notably creator of DC Comics’ first major African-American superhero, Black Lightning! You can check out his blog here or follow him on Twitter here.

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?

Tony: Fantastic Four Annual #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I was an avid comics reader in 1963, but at the age when people thought I should outgrow them. Then and now, I think comics are a terrific way to tell stories. When I bought FF Annual #1, it suddenly hit me that making comics was a job and it was one I wanted. Within a few years, I was teaching myself how to write comic books.

Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?

Tony: Batman was my first favorite, probably because my idea was that I could become Batman if I worked at it. My other favorites as a kid included Challengers of the Unknown (non-powered adventurers created by Jack Kirby) and Cosmo the Merry Martian (lovable strange aliens that traveled the solar system). But I read pretty much any comic book I could get my hands on.

Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?

Tony: Histories tell us what happened. Stories tell us why. I believe comics exercise our thought processes on several levels. The words add context to the pictures. The pictures force us to fill in what happens between the panels in our mind. So we engage the readers on the literary and the visual levels.
 
How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work?

Tony: They’ve never been a noticeable influence in my work, probably because so many comics creators have gone to that particular well. My biggest influences come from the newspapers and magazines that I read and the world I observe.

Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?


Tony: Not a favorite per se, but a type. I like folk tales and such in which a protagonist contends with someone much more powerful than them and bests them. 

What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Tony: I have three: Goodbye: A Story of Suicide, Superman Smashes the Klan and The Golden Age Sub-Mariner by Bill Everett – The Pre-War Years Omnibus.

A huge thank you to Tony for participating on our Imagine Your Story interview series here!

Image from Hoopla.

If you have never read any Black Lightning comics, I recommend heading over to Hoopla and starting with Tony’s 2018 Black Lightning Cold Dead Hands series- you can click here to jump straight to issues #1-6. The story addresses issues of police brutality, racism, and social justice, all set in Cleveland.

Thanks for reading!

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