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!

Imagine Your Story This Summer @RRPL

We have something for everyone this summer! Our theme is IMAGINE YOUR STORY and includes events and summer reading for all ages. From creating costumes for RiverCon to Smartphone Video and Writing classes inspired by Rocky River to weekly giveaways to inspire your outdoor activities, we’ve been planning for you.

Summer reading begins June 6 with our RiverCon Kit, Teen Book Kit, Children’s Summer Reading Kit, and Adult Summer Reading slips/postcard pickup. See our online calendar to register for the RiverCon and Teen Book Kits. For the Chidren’s kit, see the calendar for open times to pick up your kits. Adults can attend on Saturday the 6th to pick up Summer Reading slips and to get a lovely Rocky River postcard to mail to a friend. They can also call the Reference Desk and we’ll get slips to you through curbside pickup.

All ages will be using our new online reading log, Beanstack. Beanstack’s user friendly interface and convenient mobile app allow you to participate in our summer reading program from wherever you are. Create an account for yourself or one for your whole family.  

Once you have created your account, click “add a reader” and then enter the information for yourself and each family member.  Based on age, different readers will have access to their age appropriate reading program. Register each reader for the appropriate reading challenge and start logging books today!


Sign up to receive a Summer Reading starter kit that includes a new book, candy, library swag, and a summer reading board.  Choose from: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, or Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page. Starter kits will be distributed beginning Saturday, June 6 once you register for your kit online. Quantities are limited to the first 100 requests. 

Summer reading will take place using Beanstack. Teens will get tickets for earning badges and automatically earn a ticket for signing up and another for completion. They will also earn a badge for every book read, up to 10 books, and for every activity completed. Tickets can be entered into the raffle of their choice: $25 gift cards to Mitchells, Starbucks, Panera, Danny Boys, Dollar Tree, Books-a-Million, Immortals, Inc., and Gamestop. 


Adults have options when it comes to Summer Reading this year! For every book read, participants can ‘log a book’ on Beanstack, call the Reference Desk so staff can fill out a paper slip, or drop off a paper slip at the library in our Summer Reading mailbox. You can pick up paper slips using our curbside service. Every entry is eligible to receive one ‘virtual’ ticket, and each ticket can be submitted to earn one of seven raffle prize packs. This year’s prize packs feature $50 gift cards to Joe’s Deli, Bomba, Danny Boys, Herb’s Tavern, King Wah, Rocky River Brewing Company, and Wine Bar. Participants can also visit the library’s curbside service to request a free Rocky River postcard while supplies last.  

Keep an eye on our calendar, our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages and right here on our blog for info about upcoming events and programs at RRPL for Adults and Teens.

June 1-6:

Wednesday, June 3, 3:30 p.m.  
Due to popular demand we’ve added another virtual book club session! Join us in Google Hangouts for a discussion of the book Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. This title is available in Hoopla as an audiobook and ebook. We will send an invitation to the event via email closer to the day of the event. 

Thursday, June 4, 6:30 p.m. 
Join us for a fun night of trivia! Hosted by Cleveland Trivia, you will need to create a Zoom account on your computer or download the app on your phone. Feel free to form teams in advance with your friends or the host will assign teams. Register and you will be emailed an invitation to join this virtual event. Registration required. 

Friday, June 5 
It’s the first Friday of the month and let’s review some books. In June we’ll be reviewing Dads in fiction. Register for this event and you will be emailed a list of titles so that you can jump into that next great read. 

Saturday, June 6- Monday, June 29 
Celebrate comics and fandom with RRPL’s RiverCon @ Home throughout the month of June! Register to reserve your RiverCon @ Home kit that will include materials to make your own recycled comic craft, graphic novel book discussion guides for three select titles (adult, children, and teen), a RiverCon magnet, information on our cosplay contest, and more! Safe and secure pick-up details will be emailed to registrants before the pick-up date of Saturday, June 6th. While supplies last. 

Check out the Rivercon page on our website throughout the month of June for more virtual programming you can enjoy from home including interviews with local comic illustrators and authors, a superhero themed storytime, a community cosplay contest, and downloadable graphic novel discussion guides. 

Saturday, June 6, 2-3 pm 
Gotham may get all the attention, but the heart of comics is really in Cleveland. Join Jeff Karem, a professor of literature at Cleveland State University, for an engaging discussion of the rich history of comics and graphic novelists from Cleveland. Presented as part of our RiverCon schedule. Register and you will be emailed an invitation to join this virtual event. Registration required. 

Everyone has a story to tell ~

~ Dori