Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Few Notes From APE 2010

So, for the first time, I made the journey up to San Francisco to check out the Alternative Press Expo--APE for short. (That's my haul from the show, pictured above.) My fiancee and I walked the floor and sat in on panels and a workshop, and all throughout the two-day show I took copious notes, which I'll break down momentarily. The long and the short of it, though, is that APE is an amazing experience. The Concourse Exhibition Center oozed with the love of comics, and it was all wonderfully unspoiled by Big Hollywood and the Pop Culture Sideshow that's come to dominate the San Diego Comic Con. I was thrilled to be there, and I hope to make it an annual pilgrimage.

So then, on to my notes (edited to make sense).


First up, we checked out the Megan Kelso spotlight panel, moderated by Marc Weidenbaum. I won't lie, I haven't read any of Megan's work, but I was at APE to discover new (at least to me) comics, after all, and Kelso's crazy talented and tremendously smart about comics, to boot. It was great to listen in on her early toils with projects like Girlhero and the 10-year effort that resulted in Artichoke Tales. As she limned her comics career, she broke things down into an evolution of themes she's been alternately interested in and obsessed with, including feminism & politics, sex, Alexander Hamilton, homesickness, hiking, and "the mystery of adulthood." Her influences have included Julie Doucet, Jason Lutes, Jon Lewis, Ron Regé Jr., Brian Ralph, Matt Brinkman and the films of Yasujiro Ozu. She concluded by noting that her stories are a detailed study of ambivalence--a state she spends most of her life inhabiting.

Then, it was "The Bay Area Comics Scene Through the Years," moderated by Thien Pham and featuring a distinguished panel: Susie Cagle, Andrew Farago, Dylan Williams, Ben Catmull and Hellen Jo. Now, as Christopher Butcher noted in his coverage of this year's New York Comic-Con, it's perhaps unfair to judge a panel (or event) based on what you hoped it would be, but I'm not gonna let that stop me. I was hoping to walk out of this inspired to get some people together here in Los Angeles, empowered with a blueprint from these folks, all of whom I respect. Unfortunately, the panel mostly had an inside-jokey feel to it, a vague sense of reminiscence, and little concrete detail. We split a little past the halfway point.

Next on our docket was a spotlight on Daniel Clowes, in which the artist and his interviewer, Dan Nadel, dove deep into comics' history, both real and perceived. This was deeply inside baseball, so to speak, with questions such as "Gil Kane or Burne Hogarth?" "Mad or Cracked?" "Al Jaffee or Don Martin?" "Eric Stanton or Steve Ditko?" and "Wally Wood or Jack Kirby?" A lot of this was admittedly beyond my ken, and I'm sure my fiancee was likely bored to the brink of tears, but it was awesome nevertheless to listen to these cats just sit there and jam. I hope like hell that Clowes is able to realize his desire to someday present The Complete Eight Ball, replete with letters pages. Also, it was great to hear his story about "meeting" Ditko.

By far the best panel/spotlight/what-have-you I saw on either day was Lynda Barry's. Barry and her husband, painter Kevin Kawula, flew in from Wisconsin for the weekend show, and no moderator was needed as Lynda went through a slide show taken form her latest book, Picture This. Along the way, she defended Family Circus, talked neuroscience, inspired my fiancee to start drawing, and kept the room in stitches with one hilarious line after another. If you ever have the chance to hear to her speak, drop everything you're doing and by god, man, listen! She took us back to that proverbial day when everyone "learns" they "can't" draw, and she replaced that memory with instructions for drawing chain-smoking, trash-talking turkeys. It was glorious.

Unfortunately, the great height of Lynda's talk was followed by the depressing low of Tony Millionaire's spotlight, in which the artist fielded a series of pre-selected, mostly non-comics-related questions from Renée French. The queries, such as "did you ever splatter the blood of an enemy on a friend's walls?" essentially gave Millionaire a chance to talk about fighting and fucking. Entertaining stories, to be sure, and they'd be great to hear at a bar, but again, it's not what I was hoping for. A bit more about technique and process would have been welcome from the man, whose work I do greatly admire--Drinky Crow is one of my favorite comics characters of all time.

We wrapped up Saturday's festivities (following dinner at the delicious Bossa Nova on 8th Street--I highly recommend it; the mashed potatoes may well have been the best I've ever had, and I'm something of a mashed potato connoisseur) at the Isotope (The Comic Book Lounge, pictured below), where the shop's proprietor, James Sime (second photo below, holding award, dressed to thrill), presented this year's Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics to Pete Hodapp for his fantastic The Possum and the Pepper Spray. (Go to his blog and buy his stuff. Now!)


To kick off APE's second and final day, we ventured into the workshop area (admittedly a bit noisy, situated near the check-in tables and looking pretty slapdash) to glean from marketing's master, Larry "Beanworld" Marder, who laid it down with "Marketing a Comic That's Easier to Read Than to Describe." Marder walked our small group step by step through his own marketing efforts from back in Tales of the Beanworld's earliest days, and while the Internet has changed things somewhat since then, the examples shared nevertheless gave me ideas aplenty for getting the word out about my own projects. We almost skipped this, but boy howdy, I'm glad we didn't.

"The Art of Storytelling" served up a second helping of Lynda Barry, this time joined by Renée French, Megan Kelso, Tom Neely and Jen Wang. Moderated by Greg Means, the panel was ostensibly about the role of art in comics storytelling, and while it kind of touched on that, a highlight was the discussion about what the panelists hate to draw and go to great lengths to avoid. (French went to great lengths in her older work to avoid drawing hands, having her characters casually position their arms through doorways in order to minimize her contact with their digits.) Another great nugget, which Kelso learned from Kim Deitch: When you're stuck artistically, take the setting of the story point at which you're stuck and draw it in tremendous detail, and eventually your brain will power through the block.

After that, Gary Sassaman interviewed Rich Koslowski. It was an interesting discussion that touched on Koslowski's mainstream work as well as his graphic novels for Top Shelf, and it was also noteworthy for speaking in glowing terms about working for Archie Comics. I'm not sure I'd ever before actually heard someone talk about working for that company, but man oh man, they've been pumping out comics consistently for a long, long time, and god bless 'em for giving Koslowski steady employment.

The last panel we hit was the "Indie Comics Survival Guide," moderated Keith Knight. Despite the panel's composition--Stephen Notley, Matt Bors, Barry Deutsch and C. Spike Trotman--it was ultimately a bit of a disappointment, as Bors, Deutsch and Notley (especially Notley) got little mic time. As interesting as Spike's impressions of are, I would have liked to have heard more of what the rest of the panel had to say.

All the same, I left APE jazzed, encouraged and totally inspired. We didn't see everything--for a much fuller view of the APE experience, I recommend poking around Tom Spurgeon's archive of links--but everything we did see pointed to the same conlcusion, and our new motto here at The Danger Digest: Comics is alive, and anything is possible. Yo-ho!

Text this post copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Justice League America #60
Mar. '92
Breakdowns Part 15
Andy Helfer presents:
The long-awaited conclusion to Breakdowns
by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis
Kevin Maguire, pencils
Terry Austin, inks
Bob Lappan, letterer peculiaire
Gene D'Angelo, colorist
...and let's not forget that wide-eyed kid from College Point who grew up right in front of our eyes...
Kevin Dooley

Justice League Europe #36
Mar. '92
"Breakdowns: Postscript (Part 16 of 15)"
Assembled by Jones, Wozniak, Campanella, Schubert, D'Angelo and Augustyn from pieces left lying around by Giffen, DeMatteis, Dooley and Helfer. Thanks to Dan Jurgens.

Lest we end on a sour note, let me begin with the briefest of rundowns on JLE #36. I love the Kevin Maguire-penciled cover--one last variation on the old theme--but there's really nothing beyond the cover worth anyone's while. The Wozniak/Campanella art is disappointing, to say the least, and the story--which ultimately serves as nothing more than a setup to Justice League Spectacular #1--reads as though the usually solid Jones didn't even bother to skim JLA #60.

But, ah, JLA #60--now that's another story altogether, and the true point at which to bring these 60 Weeks to a close. First and foremost, there's Kevin Maguire's return for one last go-round on penciling duties, and a wonderful go-round it is. (Compliments to Terry Austin's inking skills, too, of course.) And then, there's the pitch-perfect script, a loving farewell to this most eclectic cast of characters. While Max Lord's own rise from the ashes of despondency to reclaim his well-earned place at the head of the League (with Oberon by his side, natch') provides the script's throughline, Giffen and DeMatteis still manage to give all due attention to the rest of the bunch, including General Glory and Catherine Cobert...


...Ralph (Elongated Man) and Sue Dibny...

...Guy Gardner and Power Girl...

...Metamorpho, Rocket Red and Flash...

...Blue Beetle...



...Crimson Fox...

...and, of course, J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

Oh, yeah, and did I mention Guy Gardner?

There will be "More Weeks with the Justice League" at some point down the line. After all, we still have the Annuals and Justice League Quarterly to discuss, not to mention the miniseries Formerly Known as the Justice League and I Just Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League. So, yes, the adventure will continue. But not for a little while. For now, I'll sign off, but in so doing, I'll kick things over to the far more capable and qualified J.M. DeMatteis. Here's how he finished this run back in '92:

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #59/35

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Justice League America #59
Feb. '92
Breakdowns Part 13
It's the final stretch for those tired, old racehorces:
Keith Giffen, plot & layouts
J.M. DeMatteis, writ & wit
Bart Sears, pencils
Elliott/Beatty, inks
Bob Lappan, letters
Gene D'Angelo, colors
Kevin Dooley, coming around the far turn
Andy Helfer, headed for the glue factory

Justice League Europe #35
Feb. '92
Breakdowns Part 14
"The Ceremony of Innocence"
A fond farewell from the battered and weary team of Gerard Jones, Darick Robertson, Romeo Tanghal, Willie Schubert, Gene D'Angelo, Kevin Dooley, and the most battered and most weary: Keith Giffen and Andy Helfer.

Marking the return of Kevin Maguire to cover duties (a great concept somewhat poorly executed), JLA finds the League taking its fight to KooeyKooeyKooey, where Dreamslayer (still in Max's body) has ensorcelled the natives into mindless obedience. Bart Sears--again aided and abetted by the one-two punch of Elliott and Beatty--delivers another solid issue, and one which ends on a serious cliffhanger: While Silver Sorceress bleeds to death on KooeyKooeyKooey, J'onn, Beetle, Metamporpho, BlueJay, Power Girl, Rocket Red and Fire are all brain-drained by Dreamslayer, who turns these Leaguers into "the new Extremists" and sends them back to the JLI's cave HQ to wipe out their fellow teammates.

In JLE, Darick Robertson (with inks this time by Romeo Tanghal) turns in his best issue to date, with stunning art and pitch-perfect layouts. After his somewhat brazen disregard for the page grid in recent issues, he here shows some real restraint that supports the issue's somber tone. However, he does have the chance to experiment with some more creative layouts when Silver Sorceress lures Dreamslayer into her own mind for a final showdown. As her body lay dying, Silver Sorceress finally manages to destroy Dreamslayer, and in so doing frees the captive minds and bodies of Maxwell Lord, much of the Justice League and all of the surviving inhabitants of KooeyKooeyKooey. Before dying, she also manages an explanation of sorts for the disparity between her name and the color of her costume: Turns out, Silver Sorceress was colorblind.

Worthy of note is this "Announcement!" from "Justice Log," detailing the fates of the League books and creative staff:

Since it's already a done deal (and so there's nothing you can do about it--NYEAH-HA-HA!) here is the new regular creative team on JLA/E (Kaiser roll, please): with #61 Dan Jurgens will be the main force behind JLA, both as writer and penciller. Over at JLE will be Gerard Jones, writer, and Ron Randall, penciller, with #37. Brian Augustyn, editor of THE FLASH, OUTLAWS, THE JAGUAR, THE FLY, and THE SHADOW STRIKES! will be the new editor. When asked what he thought about editing this...cacophony, Brian was heard to say "HA-HA-BWAH!" So expect something completely different. We think that all Justice League fans--yes, every single solitary one of you--will enjoy what's going to happen here.
Keith Giffen will still be plotting LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, the LOBO PARAMILITARY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (not for the weak-hearted), a new ECLIPSO series, and a fun, fun, fun title with a new hero called THE HECKLER.
What are those two crazy editorial kids going to do? Andy now has the esteemed position of Group Editor for Experimental Projects at Piranha Press, so expect interesting new things from that quarter. Kevin is now the editor of GREEN LANTERN (with more spin-offs to come), AQUAMAN, RAGMAN, THE HECKLER, and more.

Both issue's lettercols offer cover credits. From "Justice Log": "Kevin Maguire, pencils; Terry Austin, inks; Bob Le Rose, colors." From "Europinion": "Darick Robertson, pencils; Romeo Tanghal, inks; Bob Le Rose, colors."

See you in seven days for Week 60 of 60 Weeks with the Justice League, or: The End (as we know it).

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #58/34, #60/36

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Justice League America #58
Jan. '92
Breakdowns Part 11
No--"Breakdowns" ain't over yet! So, drop to your knees and say a prayer for those forgotten, overworked souls:
Keith Giffen, plot & breakdowns
J.M. DeMatteis, script
Bart Sears, penciller
Beatty & Elliott, inkers
Bob Lappan, letterist
Gene D'Angelo, colorer
Kevin Dooley, slave driver
Andy Helfer, slave owner

Justice League Europe #34
Jan. '92
Breakdowns Part 12
"Blood-Dimmed Tide"
Keith Giffen--plot & breakdowns
Gerard Jones--dialogue
Darick Robertson--pencils
Randy Elliott--inks
Willie Schubert--letters
Gene D'Angelo--colors
Kevin Dooley--associate editor
Andy Helfer--editor

After the lackluster performance of December 91, the "Breakdowns" team rings in 1992 with what is hands down the best issue yet of this storyline. I was hesitant going into JLA #58--it's one of those dreaded "punch-up" issues, continuing the three-way battle between the League, Despero and Lobo--but then DeMatteis upped his game significantly, turning in a phenomenal script with some of the best (and most consistent) humor of this book's entire run. Then, making things better still, Bart Sears tackled the penciling duties (with inking responsibilities shared by John Beatty and Randy Elliott), and man-oh-man are his skills a sight for sore eyes after the Wozniak debacle. Here are some of the issue's highlights:

J'onn finally uses his ability to shapeshift in a fight...

...and then he gets fed up with the whole show. Yet again.

Metamorpho gets in a one liner at Guy's expense...

...while Guy and Lobo knock the blue blazes out of one another.

Blue Beetle achieves, but fails to recognize, spiritual illumination...

...and then goes on to destroy the Lord Havok robot, who's been terrorizing the cave.

And most poignantly of all, L-Ron sacrifices himself so that Despero can be stopped.

JLE then picks up the thread, but the package isn't quite as dynamite as JLA. Most regrettably, despite some fine penciling, Darick Robertson does a lot of unnecessary breaking of the grid, and the layouts strike me as looking more "forced" than "creative." Happily, though, story-wise, L-Ron lives on ... after a fashion: In JLA, he had Kilowog turn him into a controller for Despero's malfunctioning collar, and in this issue, when Kilowog uses said controller, it zaps L-Ron's "consciousness" into Despero's body. It's all pretty wacky, I know. And speaking of wacky, Dreamslayer (in Max Lord's body, don't forget) has turned the inhabitants of KooeyKooeyKooey into a mindless army.

"Europinion" marks L-Ron's final lettercol, since he'll be rejoining Manga Khan to scout the stars for bargains, and so we can forgive him for neglecting to note that Robertson and Patterson did the cover (with colors, I presume, by Bob Le Rose, but I could be mistaken). Also, he advises that to say "G'nort" correctly, "Hold your nose and pronounce it like the 'n' in onion (and because G'nort stinks when he's wet)." In "Justice Log," the erstwhile robot notes, "Cover pencilled by Chris Sprouse and inked by Bruce Patterson with colors by Bob Le Rose." Additionally, when asked "why we never see Guy charge his power ring," L-Ron answers, "Because his oath won't get past the Comics Code." I'm gonna miss that robot.

The complete 60 Weeks with the Justice League on The Danger Digest:
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #16, #17, #18, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25/1, #26/2, #27/3, #28/4, #29/5, #30/6, #31/7, #32/8, #33/9, #34/10, #35/11, #36/12, #37/13, #38/14, #39/15, #40/16, #41/17, #42/18, #43/19, #44/20, #45/21, #46/22, #47/23, #48/24, #49/25, #50/26, #51/27, #52/28, #53/29, #54/30, #55/31, #56/32, #57/33, #59/35, #60/36

All images this post copyright DC Comics. Original text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.