Monday, July 30, 2007


Standing in the gridlocked main hall in the San Diego Convention Center during the 38th Annual Comic Con, the words of artist Rick Geary ring decidedly true. “It’s grown like a monster,” reflects the 30-year veteran of the comic book trade, who’s been attending regularly since 1976, when the Con was being hosted in the El Cortez hotel.

“Over the past ten years or so, the television and movie industries have latched onto the comics and given the comic industry new life, but it’s also made the convention a little top heavy with the corporate presence,” muses Geary. “I don’t know if that’s a negative or positive factor, but it certainly has drawn the people in and made the comic book artists and writers and the people who work in the industry a little bit more high profile than they were before.”

Despite the described trend, Geary has managed to maintain a low-profile over the years, working on projects of great merit that gain the deserved attention of his peers but, as is true with so many comics, fall outside of the spotlight of the superhero genre that has ingratiated itself within the public consciousness. “30 years ago,” Geary reminisces, “I submitted my first story to an anthology comic book. Not long after that I joined the funny pages of NATIONAL LAMPOON, to which I contributed for about 12, 13 years before they folded. Around that time, I started my series A TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER, which continues to this day. And I’ve also contributed to many other comic venues over the years,” including HEAVY METAL, MAD, DC/Paradox Press, and Dark Horse comics.

Armed with such “indy” street cred, along with his nonfiction VICTORIAN MURDER series, Geary proved a worthy addition to the panel titled “Reality-Based Graphic Novels,” which otherwise skewed heavily toward a personal, autobiographical approach. Moderated by Andrew Farago of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, the panelists included Alison Bechdel, Guy Delisle, Miriam Katin, and Joe Matt, all distinguished artists and storytellers, and all with plenty of insight to offer those in attendance. The only disappointment was that without the support of a fellow artist of similar ilk—one who likewise eschews personal history in favor of historical narrative—Geary’s voice perhaps fell too softly on the ears of the audience. (All the same, it was rather wonderful to watch Katin take a shine to Matt over the course of the hour, Katin’s work comprising WE ARE ON OUR OWN—a WWII memoir rife with Nazi persecution—and Matt’s most recent work being the graphic novel SPENT, which in Matt’s own words is about “porn addiction and masturbation.”)

Later, back at his table in Artists’ Alley, Geary enjoys a moment’s respite. “I’ve been on three or four panels this year and I’ve also been at various other booths doing signings and drawing sketches for people. It’s always more or less a break when I get to come back to my own table here.”

That said, Friday night’s presentation of the 19th annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards proved an event worth leaving the table for, as Geary shared an Eisner with writer Bob Burden for their work on GUMBY. In their translation of Art Clokey’s creation from stop motion to sequential art, both creators are well deserving of the award for Best Title for a Younger Audience. Geary’s deceptively simple style presents Gumby’s fantastic world with a matter-of-factness that many artists may well shy away from but which perfectly complements the insouciant tone found in Burden’s scripts.

Given time to reflect on his latest industry award (following the Inkpot he received from the San Diego Comic Con in 1980 and the Book and Magazine Illustration Award bestowed by the National Cartoonists Society in 1994), Geary describes the experience as “a top thrill. And getting to meet all the other artists who were winners and nominees, people I’ve admired and idolized for years, it was a great experience.

“It’s always great to come to [Comic Con],” Geary concludes. “It’s certainly never boring and it’s been a really valuable promotional venue for my career and my work. I just hope to keep coming to the convention and meeting people and working in this great business.”

For more information on Rick Geary and his work, visit

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Jon D. Witmer—writer, holder of odd jobs, keeper of comic books. Carbon dating the origin of his love for sequential art back some two decades, Jon now mines the varied gems of his collection. These are his memories from the longbox…

Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Colorist: Joe Rosas
Ass’t. Editor: Suzanne Gaffney
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco

Cover Date: October, 1991

“A mutant milestone!” proclaimed the cover. “A legend reborn!” Gasp! This was it—the book that at long last promised to meet my deepest yen, to assuage my comics jones, and with four variant covers, no less!

Opening to the first page of 1991’s X-MEN #1, a caption declares, “Stan Lee proudly presents the dawn of a new era!” A new era, indeed, and this time I was actually there from the get-go. To my naïve young mind, it seemed as though this title was made just for me.

When this book hit the stands, I was fast approaching double digits, making me old enough to consider myself a true-blue collector, and giving me the strong suspicion that #1 on a cover meant something—a suspicion shared by countless others and exploited capitally by the ruling parties of the day, god bless ‘em all. (Admittedly, I can still be a sucker for first issues, but with maturity has come at least some modicum of self-restraint, by which I mean my pocketbook is now tempered by the likes of rent, gas and electric bills, car insurance—you get the picture.) Likewise, I was of the age where I wanted the comic book equivalent of gut-wrenching METAL (screamed in my best hair-band voice), and who better to scribe such a saga and give rebirth to a legend than the man who had already rebirthed that very same legend some 16 years prior?

Chris Claremont is certainly a legend amongst the writers whose words have graced the pages of Marvel’s X-books, and by 1991 that status had been amply established. That said, in my youthful ignorance, I didn’t have a clue who the guy was. But I did know that whoever was drawing Wolverine could pencil a badass with the best of ‘em. Yes indeed, ever since reading X-MEN #1, Jim Lee has stood proudly in my mind as the quintessence of 1990s comic art (a title that, when first bestowed, I swear was a compliment). And sure, I was just as guilty as the next guy of loving Liefeld’s work back then, but the simple fact that Lee was on X-MEN kept him at the top o’ the heap.

Throwing their readers straightaway into the proverbial jungle, Claremont and Lee kick start the action, naturally enough, in space. A group of renegade mutants have stolen a spacecraft so that they can fly to Asteroid M and pledge allegiance to the Master of Magnetism himself, the inimitable Magneto. And when two more spacecraft arrive in hot pursuit, Magneto appears in the cold vacuum of space, sans helmet, and lays down the two-fisted street—er, space justice that he’s so adored for.

Think about that for just a moment. Magneto. In space. Without a helmet. Frickin’ hardcore. At nine years old, all I could think was, “Mom would kill me if I tried a stunt like that.”

When we meet up with the X-Men, they’re taking full advantage of their suped-up Danger Room, battling one another in classic fashion. It’s all vintage Claremont—Wolverine on a short fuse, Cyclops frustrated with the feral Canadian, Professor X back from wherever it is he disappears to before returning with feelings of guilt over abandoning his wards, and banter aplenty (even banter about banter). All this goes on for some time as Claremont masks his characterization in the guise of Professor X seeking to reacquaint himself with his former students. “I need to learn the extent and nature of your individual capabilities, how you mesh as a team,” Charles says to Jean Grey; likewise, Claremont wants to ensure his readers are equally well informed.

Things get real again when Magneto arrives back on Earth to raise a nuclear submarine he’d previously sunk and take its ICBMs back up to Asteroid M, you know, as an innocent reminder to leave the man the hell alone. While he succeeds in this short-term goal, he only gets away after exploding one of the nuclear warheads in the upper atmosphere, an act that promises to foment all sorts of conflicts in issues to come.

Giving Claremont and Lee ample room to stretch their legs, the book has 37 pages of story plus a two-page center spread of the X-gang in their swimwear just to smack readers in the face with 1991. Along the way, we’re also treated to Nick Fury in a three-piece suit and later an outfit that looks suspiciously like it was “borrowed” from Cable.

No discussion of X-MEN #1 is really complete, however, without some deeper mention of its four covers, which possess the super ability to be lined up next to one another and form an über-cover that screams “X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN X-MEN.” Depicting the whole gang teaming up on an apparently distracted Magneto, who ignores the children of the atom in favor of whatever it is that’s burning a hole in his hand, the complete image pays homage—with all the bombast the medium could muster—to the cover of 1963’s THE X-MEN #1.

Lastly, but of great significance to a nine-year old back in the summer of ’91, the back cover is not to be overlooked, with it’s ad for Toy Biz’s first line of X-Men action figures. The gang was a long way from being all there, but the lineup was pretty damn killer all the same—Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Cyclops, Wolverine, Archangel, Magneto, Juggernaut, and Apocalypse—and the way they all run at the camera, it evokes GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1 (only with some bad guys added to the mix in the spirit of camaraderie…or was it capitalism?).

So then, bust out your checklists and let’s tally X-MEN #1’s score card. Magneto? Check. The “snikt” sound? Check. Cigar smoking? Check and check. Nuclear explosion? Check! Yes indeed, sixteen years after it first hit the scene, it’s still satisfying knowing I’ve got four copies of this book bagged, boarded, and in the longbox…

The complete “Memories from the Longbox” on The Danger Digest:
#2: The Flash #350
#3: X-Force #116

Last image copyright Marvel Comics, Toy Biz and Kay Bee; all other images this post copyright Marvel Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Monday, July 23, 2007


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.

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Assistant Editor: Molly Lazer
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley

Cover Date: August, 2007

Bucky Barnes has had a rough go. Sure, he got to fight alongside Captain America during the War to End All Wars and even go head-to-head with der Führer himself, but then he was ignobly exploded before WWII had come to an official close. Or at least, that’s what everybody thought had happened, until writer Ed Brubaker decided to bring back ol’ Buck, much to the knee-jerk chagrin of countless readers who had all relegated Bucky to third-string sidekick status, his fate at the fuse of a remote Nazi missile-plane his fitting end.

Then a miracle happened. Brubaker not only resurrected Bucky, he somehow managed to make him one of the most dynamic characters currently at play within the Marvel Universe. Which is all the more significant since Cap’s been assassinated and Bucky—now known by the moniker ‘Winter Soldier,’ the name he operated under as a covert, brainwashed assassin in between extended periods of cryogenic storage over the past six decades—carries much of the weight of the book still bearing the title Captain America.

After Cap’s death in issue 25, issue 26 ends with Bucky vowing to avenge his former partner by killing Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. When next we see Buck in the beginning of issue 27, he’s visiting the Captain America exhibit in Washington’s National History Museum, and it’s here that we find this column’s focus—page four, which in five panels perfectly encapsulate the essence of Bucky’s current arc.

At first glance, page four as a whole presents a surface symmetry that echoes the Winter Soldier’s cold, analytical mindset, his calculated decision to go after Stark. However, panels three and four slightly upset that balance in terms of both space (weighed against panel three) and color (with panel four’s flashback presented in grayscale). In turn, this slightly off-kilter layout suggests that Bucky’s breakfast may not be so well balanced after all.

While Captain America is no longer a physical presence in the book, his memory nevertheless continues to bind the story together, and Bucky’s particular storyline hinges on his relationship with Steve Rogers (Cap’s alter ego, for any latecomers). Thus, it’s significant that every panel on this page features both Bucky and Cap (or the displayed mock-ups of him, anyway), and as Bucky mulls over the facts as he sees them, the ‘camera’ tracks around him and the exhibit, literally covering all the angles.

Lastly, taking a close look at panel one, we see Bucky’s reflection superimposed over the display case that supposedly holds Cap’s real uniform and shield, but which Bucky deduces to be fakes both. Everything is centered, and the star on Cap’s chest lines up over Bucky’s forehead just where the ‘A’ on Captain America’s mask would have been, painting Buck as the protector of Steve Rogers’s legacy. In contrast to this image, panel five gives us Buck’s face in close-up on the left of the panel, with the back of the Captain America statue to the right. After steeling himself to single-mindedly hunt down Tony Stark, is the Winter Soldier in fact turning his back on Captain America and the ideals he stood for? Or is the statue he turns away from merely a symbol of Stark’s campaign of disinformation? Either way, the half-light on Bucky’s face reminds us of the complexity within this once-forgettable artifact from a bygone era in comics. In the wake of Captain America’s assassination, the battle of good vs. evil rages on not just between heroes and villains, but within each individual.

The complete “Page and Panel” on The Danger Digest:
#2: The Spirit #8
#3: Madame Mirage #1
#4: Green Arrow Year One #1, Pages 10 &14

Above image copyright Marvel Comics
Essay copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Hey, all. Thanks for stopping by to take a look at the official DANGER DIGEST blog, where zaniness will certainly ensue. Before I let the dams spill forth, here’s a brief description of what you can expect to find.

First off, allow me to rather obliquely explain the name. THE DANGER DIGEST signifies the full corpus of my adventures into comics, from the comic-related blogs you’ll find here to the web comic that goes by the same moniker and will debut later this year over at (don’t rush over there yet, though, because all you’ll find is an unassuming—and unimpressive—page declaring the site to be under construction). As the launch of that comic approaches, there’ll be announcements aplenty gracing this page.

My primary focus here is comics, and in that vein most of the blogging will be editorial pieces on the art and business of comics, fitting into one of three columns. In no particular order, those columns are MEMORIES FROM THE LONGBOX, PAGE AND PANEL, and BAG IT AND BOARD IT. MEMORIES FROM THE LONGBOX will explore the experience of collecting comics by focusing on individual issues that have been important to me over the years as I’ve added them to my personal collection. PAGE AND PANEL will examine particular pages and panels (see where I got that clever title?) that I find outstanding in one way or another. Lastly, BAG IT AND BOARD IT will present my weekly review of the new books I picked up before I slip them into their polys and longboxes.

Doubtless, other writing will pop up here that can’t be so easily categorized, and I’ll probably even venture outside of comics from time to time to dabble wherever else my heart so desires. Throughout the adventure, feel free to post your comments and let me know what you’re thinking.

So, here goes. Yo-ho!