Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It’s often noted that the 1990s were a dark period for comics. My purpose here is not so much to either support or refute that claim, but to argue that it misses the point: The 1990s were completely insane in comics. As evidence, I offer Captain America #408 from Oct. 1992.

I found this issue just last week as I was rifling through my own longboxes in lieu of doing any substantive work. I don’t know exactly where or when I picked it up, and I don’t have any issues around it, so all I know about the story thus far is what’s told on the splash page:

After another page or so of exposition, Cap lies down to be injected with Nightshade’s bathtub-brewed anti-lycanthrope potion. Then, just as he receives his shot, this happens:

For the briefest of moments, I thought I was reading a Michael Kupperman comic, but as an editor’s note soon explains, this was just the tie-in to the company-spanning Infinity War. Here’s a quick run-through of how the fight shakes out:

Cap with a beard! Mondo spookioso, indeed! But the madness doesn’t end there. First, there’s this bizarre exchange, beginning with a seminude Mr. Mayor and ending with a mutton-chopped man on a motorbike:

Then, just a few pages later, the creative team offers yet another “unearthly manifestation”:

Giving souls that they were back in the salad days of ’92, Gruenwald and co. actually offer three stories in this one issue. The second revolves around Cap’s girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Diamondback, and her brother, Cutthroat:

This story gets downright creepy when Cutthroat walks in on Crossbones conversing with Mother Night:

“Momsy”? Take a seat on Freud’s couch, Crossbones. Fortunately, to cleanse the palate, the book ends with a brief and ridiculous Falcon story:

All that really happens here is Falcon chases around Zack Moonhunter, who’s been assigned to test-drive a new Avengers Skycycle. After flying dangerously close to the Manhattan skyline, our man arrives at Avengers HQ, where Cap appears in a fresh costume, and Black Widow shows off her ‘90s hairdo:

Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying this issue of Captain America was anything special; I’m pretty damn sure this is right about the level of inanity that was being pumped out on a weekly basis back in ’92.

And it’s that ability to maintain that I call special.


Although I may have been the only one drawing when I tackled my first 24-hour comic, there were witnesses to the event. One of them, my good friend John Staubitz, even had the foresight to document the occasion with his camera. He recently uncovered this embarrassing piece of evidence, and I present it here for everyone’s amusement.

Until next week. Yo-ho!

All images from Captain America #408 copyright Marvel Comics.
Photo by John Staubitz.
Essay (the word is used loosely) copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ANYTHING IS EVERYTHING ELSE #5: Meanwhile, on the Interweb…

When Jon D. W. sits down to draw--always with pencil, often with pen, and only with blood, sweat and tears in a metaphorical sense--he dives deep into the ocean of ideas and influences swirling throughout his brain. The result: these one-page idea pieces known as Anything is Everything Else!

Check out The Reptile Show here.

Check out Leland’s Attic here.

The complete Anything is Everything Else on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #4, #6

All contents this post copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

24-HOUR COMICS: Where We’re Headed

Around the time I posted my previous 24-hour comic, “Stories of Boys and Girls,” I developed a serious jones to make another. Unlike my previous effort, though, I was determined this time to drag some friends along with me through the misadventure--after all, misery really does love company. My vision was to get three other people, because I figured the four of us would fit nicely around the kitchen table in my girlfriend’s and my apartment. To my amazement, the three friends I had in mind all agreed without the slightest coercion, and even more incredibly, we were able to quickly settle on a date that worked for all of us. And so, on Saturday, August 1, 2009, we gathered around the table, surrounded by a heady supply of caffeine and booze, and at 10 a.m. we started the clock. What follows are my own 24 pages (plus a cover):

Of the four participants, I was the last to finish, wrapping things up at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 2. (By the way, if anyone’s interested, after penciling with a Sanford Digit 0.5mm mechanical pencil, I inked with a set of Pigma Micron black pens; other embellishments were made with Faber-Castell PITT brush pens (gray tones) and Copic brush pens. All illustrations were done on Letraset Bleedproof Marker Pad.) The last time I tackled the 24-hour challenge, I made the mistake of totally finishing each page before moving on to the next; this time out of the gate, I determined to rough each page in pencil, then go back to letter each page, and lastly go back for the final inks. When I do my next 24-hour comic (yes, I did say when), I will almost certainly repeat this new method.

Considering my limited abilities, the obvious flaw of this book is the art itself. Though I rushed it at the time and wasn’t thrilled with the results, in retrospect I wish I had more pages that looked like Page #1--it’s great to see some black and gray and have some actual contrast. Of course, it also would have been nice to connect all the floating heads to some actual bodies, and to give distinct faces to the crowd of eggs within which the narrator nearly drowns on page 20.

On a closer read, I think it’s more troubling that the story’s women are all rather unsympathetic, from the nagging “old old lady” to the machinating “new old lady”; Isabelle and the one-eyed prostitute aren’t really seen enough to be more than objects, which isn’t any consolation. Likewise, I’m more than a bit embarrassed that all of the French characters are stereotypes. For what it’s worth, the story is seen/told through the narrator’s perspective, and he isn’t exactly supposed to be a good guy himself.

That said, I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer about the whole comic. Yes, when I first finished it, I was convinced it was a travesty, but that was really just my exhaustion talking. As I’ve put myself back onto a decent sleeping schedule and had the chance to re-read the book a handful times, I’ve become convinced it’s not half as bad as I’d feared, and in fact there are elements I genuinely like--even a few drawings.

One particular point of pride is that I managed to incorporate a Battleship and Space on consecutive pages--this was a challenge given by my girlfriend, and when she posited it, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen. (Since I’m mentioning where certain elements came from, I should note the Penfluridol was a gift of Wikipedia’s random-article generator; a few other ideas arrived by means of Scott McCloud’s Story Machine.) Also, despite his status as a stereotype, I like the character of Claude. What can I say? I’m a sucker for French gangsters.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the book reads; I think the dialogue and narration is completely passable for the story. (The angled narration boxes, by the way, were a response to the time crunch, but happily they also underline the narrator’s skewed perspective.) And speaking of the story, after I finished the pencils and went back to ink the letters, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the driver pulls double duty, standing in for both me as the improvising creator with “like a couple thousand questions about [the] story so far,” as well as for the reader, who similarly doesn’t have a clue “where we’re headed.”

Finally, a note on the cover: Somewhere around 10 p.m., a certain party spilled his ink onto the table, and it did a number on my rough pencils for the last page. I consequently re-did the pencils for page 24, but at the end of the day, it struck me the original would make a fitting cover, as it speaks to the 24-hour-comic process itself while also literally showing where the story is headed. A happy accident, that.

Other Danger Digest 24-Hour Comics:
"Stories of Boys and Girls," May 2003

This post’s images and text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

PAGE AND PANEL #4: Green Arrow Year One #1, Pages 10, 14

Sometimes, one panel can say it all. Other times, all the panels on a page come together to make a whole far greater than any of its parts. And on occasion, neither page nor panel hits the mark (but hopefully the artist at least hits the deadline). This is our discussion--this is Page and Panel.

Written by Andy Diggle
Art & Cover by Jock
Color by David Baron
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher
Associate Editor Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor Mike Carlin

Cover Date: Early September 2007

To wrap up our two-year-anniversary celebration here at The D.D. blog, I humbly--and belatedly--present a “Page and Panel” column I’d originally intended to write back around October of 2007, when the Green Arrow Year One miniseries was still actually on the shelves.

Green Arrow as a character never really caught my attention until I picked up the hardcover collecting the Kevin Smith-scripted “Quiver” storyline back in college. After that, I slipped in and out of collecting the monthly series, but I did my best to keep tabs on the character, and a “Year One” event was ample reason to fork over $2.99 on a bi-weekly basis. Truth be told, I’ve long been a sucker for such retcons, and the artwork by Jock didn’t hurt any either.

Year One reteamed Jock with writer Andy Diggle; the two had previously collaborated on Lenny Zero and The Losers. The artist’s work demonstrates an almost reckless energy that feels at any moment like it could teeter off into abstraction, and yet it remains grounded in an utterly believable--albeit unique--realism. This quality is evident even in his covers, including that for the first issue of this Year One miniseries: As Oliver Queen stands in ankle-deep water, his shadow points right back to him, simultaneously evoking the numeral 1 and suggesting an arrow, with Queen himself as the arrowhead. Additionally, the shadow that shrouds Queen’s face underscores the identity crisis (no pun intended) he faces in this first chapter and indeed throughout the Year One arc--that of the spoiled playboy who realizes his selfish lifestyle has left his soul dried and hollow--while also hinting at the masked identity he will ultimately assume.

This struggle comes to a head at a charity auction for the Star City Drug Rehab Center, which Queen attends with Hackett, his private security man who, a few pages later, will turn traitor. When the bidding opens at $1,000 for a longbow from the estate of Howard Hill--the bow-hunter who executed all of the trick shots for Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood--an inebriated Queen jumps to his feet and offers the winning bid of $100,000. Asked to say a few words to commemorate this show of “generosity,” Queen takes the microphone and manages to make a first-rate ass of himself on page 10.

Queen’s buffoonery is ironically complemented with a golden hue courtesy of David Baron’s colors (themselves truly a perfect complement to Jock’s own work); the golden cast also emphasizes the wealth gathered in the room. Further, echoing the cover, Queen’s lack of substantive identity is again made manifest with a stark use of silhouette in panel two. One of the subtler elements, however, proves perhaps most noteworthy: the “drunk bubbles” that float near Queen’s head in the first panel.

The circular motif--appropriately obscured and multiplied in Queen’s drunken stupor--comes into sharp focus on page 14, where Queen, for the first time this issue, picks up the bow and arrow. Yachting off to Fiji to supposedly strike a shady business deal with Hackett, Queen takes up the Hill bow for some target practice. Here, instead of a visible display of his clouded senses, the circle coalesces as a nimbus over the will-be hero’s head, a circular “panel” the character breaks through literally like an arrow.

This layout resurfaces on page 12 of issue two when, stranded on an island and wielding a makeshift bow and arrow, Queen prepares to go hunting. Wearing a hood to protect himself against sunstroke, we see the hero literally taking shape, and the absence of any other panels on the page supports his greater focus, his single-minded resolve, his coming into his own and recognizing the true character he so lacked at the story’s beginning.

There we have it, dear readers. My thanks to you for bearing with me through this trip down memory lane. Please come on back next week, when I’ll be posting my second 24-hour comic, which was made just this past weekend. (I’m almost recovered at this point.)

As always, yo-ho!

The complete “Page and Panel” on The Danger Digest:
#1: Captain America #27, Page 4
#2: The Spirit #8
#3: Madame Mirage #1

All images in this post copyright DC Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest