Discussion & Analysis

Steve Ditko 1927-2018

Steve Ditko would’ve been 91 today.

There are a number of great articles on Steve Ditko that I’ve been meaning to archive in some useful way. What better time than now.

· The Avenging Page (In Excelsis Ditko) by Joe McCulloch (My personal favorite essay on Ditko by one of comics’ best writers.)

· Steve Ditko Doesn’t Stop by Joe McCulloch (Excellent overview of Ditko’s later career in small publishing.)

· Steve Ditko’s Cartooning: Abstraction/Word vs. Picture/Motion by Ken Parille (An examination of some of Ditko’s unique and oft-overlooked artistic traits.)

· Comic Art As Fine Art from The Great American Novel (Thorough “compare/contrast” between Ditko’s Fantastic Four and John Byrne’s.)

Showcases On Specific Works 
The Creeper
Ghostly Tales

Recently, I was asked a few questions in regards to Steve Ditko over at and The Double Page Spread Podcast.

Anyone who knows me even in passing knows the impact Steve Ditko made in my life. It’s been four months since he died, and it’s still an odd thing to process.

I hope Steve Ditko was content in the end. He certainly worked hard for it.


Discussion & Analysis


OVERWORD is a series of six essays that chart my fascination with certain comic books and their creators. It’s comics criticism and commentary, as I thoroughly get into the history and context of the subjects. They originally appeared over the span of several months on my Patreon page, where I have written several other posts about my own process and what further inspires me. OVERWORD was a massive undertaking for me and now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m happy I did it. My hopes are that these post are found useful, informative, and, at the very least, entertaining.

1 · TEEN TITANS Part One – My need for colorful, clean-cut super heroics and my habit to hunt back issues in bulk met at the intersection of Wolfman & Pérez. They were the best choice.

2 · TEEN TITANS Part Two – My enthusiasm for the TT franchise was destroyed by troubling story elements but was resuscitated by the excellent Titans Hunt storyline. My devotion never fully recovered.

3 · JSA/ALL-STAR SQUADRON – A Roy Thomas appreciation. Character archaeology as expression, especially to pin a moment in time. This led me to “map reading” info-dumps.

4 · JUSTICE LEAGUE of AMERICA – A Mike Sekowsky & Dick Dillin appreciation. Two underrated workhorses who defined the adventures of the world’s leading superhero group for decades.

5 · QUASAR & SQUADRON SUPREME – I applied new lessons to my immersion into a couple of Mark Gruenwald masterpieces. A positive reappraisal of a cult classic and an unjustly dismissed passion project.

6 · MARK GRUENWALD – Singing the praises of a legendary storyteller by getting to the root of my own obsession.

"COPRA" All About Process Comics I Make Discussion & Analysis

NEGATIVELAND debuts on Patreon

NEGATIVE LAND! The new Copra Press series can be read exclusively on Patreon.

Additionally, I’ll be posting tons of behind-the-scene Copra art and How-To essays.

Oh, and commissions – check it out and spread the word!

"COPRA" Discussion & Analysis Los Press

Interview Time


Paste’s very own Sequential Heart Podcast interviewed me recently about all things COPRA with some back issue bin diving chatter thrown in.


Over at the Fire & Water Podcast Network, I overviewed one of my favorite single comic books and defended nobody’s favorite crossover event, Millennium. Get dirty with me on the Justice League International: Bwah-Ha-Ha Podcast.


Discussion & Analysis

Fight Fight Fight

I’ve been drawing fight scenes more than usual recently – what action comic is complete without a few of them? – which got me thinking about some of my favorite comic book brawls. There are hundreds of superhero fights that I can recall quicker than people’s birthdays or important passwords and forgive me if I’m wrong, but I bet your memory’s probably  identical to mine. From the banal and obligatory to the inspired and well crafted, we’ve all seen a wide range of slugfests.


Is it the choreography in service of mayhem? Is it an appreciation for impossible anatomy? Is it that smattering of blood on the corner of a mouth?  Is it not worth examining at all? Too late!

Kieron Dwyer 1

Captain America #345 by Mark Gruendwald, Kieron Dwyer and Al Milgrom. I have a soft spot for the Gruenwald-era Captain America. The Ron Lim drawn issues are great, especially Streets of Poison where Cap absorbs a warehouse worth of cocaine & gives Daredevil a beatdown, but the Dwyer issues are in a class by themselves (he had been drawing comics for about a year by the time this issue came out).

Kieron Dwyer 2

This Code-approved scene is half shoot out, half hands-on massacre. It was a 75 cent instant classic.


Legion of Super-Heroes #4 by Keith Giffen, Tom & Mary Bierbaum and Al Gordon. This is about as abstract as a cosmic battle is ever going to be in a DC comic, but what makes it awesome is that it’s a fight between Mon-El (red, caped) and the Time Trapper (see: all that sand), meaning he’s fighting basically the concept of time itself (as well as the Superman editorial offices of ’90).

Keith Giffen

I used to dislike the impenetrability of these Legion comics. These days, I love it, especially if they were drawn by Giffen.


Justice League Europe #11 by William Messner -Loebs and Bart Sears (plotted by Giffen same month as the Legion issue up there… wow!). This fight’s pretty brief, which should appease all those whiners who begin their sentences with “In real life, a fight wouldn’t last as long as–“.

In real life!

Bart Sears

Anyway, you wanna talk about brief? How about “One punch!” (If you got that reference, congratulations/shame on you).


Orion #5 by Walter Simonson. This is an All-Fight issue between father and son, Orion and Darkseid. It’s an incredibly paced fight, this one. I’ll say it here: Orion contains many instances of innovative action-storytelling. It’s some of Simonson’s best work, and his love for the material only strengthens it. Toward the end of the run it gets a little wonky (when he has to draw regular people eating hot dogs or walking), but the majority of this run is page for page forward-looking superhero comics.


No banter, plenty of speed lines. Is speed line porn a thing?


Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Stan Lee and God Himself. Not only is this one of the best fights ever, it’s the quintessential Spider-Man story. It has all the staples: teen angst, young romance, awesome villain, humiliation during battle, worried aunt, hateful boss, public ridicule, wisecracks, isolation. You really don’t need to go further than this one issue; it goes off the rails after this.

Ditko page

Okay. Steve Ditko. There, I said it.


The Uncanny X-men #173 by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek. Ah, the Smith run on the X-men, a highlight for many X-fans. His trajectory is interesting because, not unlike Dwyer, it was during Smith’s first year when he landed the gig that defined his career. He rocketed into fandom heights almost immediately, rode the X-wave for a year, then came close to burning out. This issue may be the apex of that initial run, but definitely the one that personally influenced me.

Paul Smith 1

I recently paid homage to this widescreen battle in a recent issue of Copra (the one where they also go to Tokyo), and although Smith was carrying over the style set forth by Frank Miller (in the Wolverine mini-series tied to this issue), it was this story that made an impression on me.

Paul Smith 2

Speaking of things I’ve recently tried to pull off, how about battle royal match-type of fights? I can’t think of any standout examples with a huge cast of characters (well, this milestone goes without saying). You know what? I don’t even wanna know. Somebody’s bound to say Secret Wars and I’m not ready to deal with their warped sense of history or taste.


Isn’t it weird when an artist actaully knows some martial arts and then draws a step-by-step of what he knows but passes it off as a narrative? The O’Neil/Cowan Question had a lot of that. So did Mike Baron comics.  I get trying to be faithful to the art form of self defense, but sometimes I just want a clumsy pair of fists to operatically connect with someone’s cheekbone.


“Honorable Mention” and “Runner Up” sounds wrong, so I’ll sidestep my personal Top Fight list to admit that, undeniably, the master of the superhero fight scene is Jack Kirby (oh, yes he is). Frank Miller is up there, especially when he’s the one drawing it (don’t deny it, you). Erik Larsen has cornered the market on big hands that punch things (tell me I’m wrong). Frank Quietly’s Authority had epically drawn moments of violence (okay, don’t tell me). Recently, James Harren has produced some of the best tighten-up-release carnage I’ve seen since Berserk (stop it).

And hey, you know I’m talking exclusively about American mainstream comics, right? I know all about some of the very best outside of that: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit. The comics of Wong Yuk-long. These are all works of beauty, just like the list I laid out. Every knuckle, every grimace, every drop of blood, all modest examples as to why comic book fighting is so present, so central to the landscape. It represents what comics are so impossibly good at being, all in one shot: awkward and graceful and ridiculous.



Discussion & Analysis

One Artist Anthology Comics

My latest love letter, made up of historical and critical kisses, is One Artist Anthology Comics over at The Comics Journal. I trace the trend from Crumb to Ditko, and focus on the strongest of the contenders such as Clowes, Ware, and the Hernandez Bros. I also examine the glut in the mid 90s, the fallout from a beat up industry, the [not as thin as I thought] herd of modern examples and why cartoonists can greatly benefit from such a specific publishing pattern. Check out why the one-man anthology is the format of choice around here.


"ZEGAS" Discussion & Analysis

Panel Über Alles

With Zegas #2 out from the printer and into the world, I wanted to take a closer look at the super panel breakdown, which I use all throughout the issue.

You’ll recognize the trick, it’s simply one larger image broken down into pieces OR one larger image with characters moving within it . I wanted to take advantage of a double page spread to choreograph Emily Zegas’ body language  through her several moods and locales. The tricky part was making sure the eye was led exactly where it should go. Turns out the heavy lifting is done by the words, the conversations, the thought balloons. The flow goes down the panel , then up the next, then back down, etc.

You can call these my “Marcos Martin” pages. I won’t deny it, he’s been an influence for a while and I’m sure sequences like this were around at the time I was originally cooking my pages up:

Marcos has made a career of leaving his peers in the dust. He doesn’t toy with a layout, he commands it, and no one in contemporary adventure comics comes close to achieving what he achieves on a regular basis. The scene up there is just one big room in one panel, also used in a double page spread. We follow Spider-Man, our eyes being led to the right then back to the left, punctuated by inset panels.


Another main influence on this approach is Chris Ware, another storytelling master who occasionally uses the panels to reflect different seasons, eras, or time signatures. This Big Tex page does it all.

It’s no secret that Ware had been influenced by Richard McGuire and his seminal story “Here”, from 1989…

… but the real godfather of the page-as-map is Frank King and his Gasoline Alley strip.

[Matt Seneca wrote a great piece on King over at his recently defunct column Your Wednesday Sequence. Seneca also tackled the same Marcos Martin scene I was talking about.]


Going over the overblown staging in these pages reminds me of the smaller examples, the panels that are broken into  fragments in order to delay time, build tension, or reveal story details. In We3, Frank Quitely took a Grant Morrison story and took it into visually innovative territory. This modest sequence, however, is nicely paced.

Was it a callback to Harvey Kurtzman, that scene? I’d like to think so. Kurtzman was a true virtuoso of all of these narrative tics and bumps, his war comics being prime vehicles for strong and smart material. These three panels are works of beauty, captions be damned.

This batch, courtesy of Jim Steranko, works well enough but isn’t quite necessary. The image’s story does progress, and the gutter breaks do make the eye start and stop. Steranko was more than capable of managing subtlety,  and this scene certainly  tries to build up a sense of weight, but it still feels like a faint attempt.

Same here (Steranko again). As if mid-air speech wasn’t hard enough to swallow, the gutter breaks seem to be used as mere window dressing. Maybe it was to show that more… panels had been drawn? Steranko, after all, was once nearly denied payment for writing a silent page. Either way, the balance of dialogue and movement can make or break a moment; this one’s a dud.

Just one more dud. Actually, the panel break would’ve been useful if the image actually revealed something, maybe the very thing that’s being explained. I gotta admit, this is a pretty funny out of context scene, but that may have something to do with those tears. Deluxe Format tears.

Here’s a pretty simple but effective Frank Miller shot…

… and here’s another one that justifies the breakdown treatment in a different way. The gutters stagger the eyes one panel at a time while the monologue unravels at its own pace. It’s confident work, and in Miller’s pre-Sin City comics, this type of rhythm is dominant.

Oh, and punchlines. They’re good reasons to break up a panel. Julie Doucet knows the score.


Back to the page as a setting, Gianni De Luca did some incredible, jaw dropping sequences in his time. As far as I can tell, his work was serialized in Il Giornalino. This il Commissario SPADA page is from 1979…

… but his most revered work continues to be his adaptation of Hamlet. Here’s a two page spread from Amleto, from 1976 (the entire story is made up of double page spreads, with a usual change in location per page turn). Click on it and bask in its glory.

I can’t help but think of this John Romita Jr. two pager, perhaps his most imaginative and ambitious sequence yet… and it’s only a walking figure. Such simplicity!

So there you go, a few drops of inspiration on how to stretch and maximize the real estate within an image, a panel, or a page or two. I’m not sure whether the reader should be made aware of such mechanisms, but some of these pages are too bombastic to ignore or be taken passively.

I should shut my yap. Let the work speak for itself and all that, right? Case in point, click away:


Buy Zegas #2 online or directly from me this upcoming weekend, in case you find yourself in Portland’s own comic-fest Stumptown!


UPDATE: Criminally Left Out

Thanks to Marc Sobel for reminding me of this great scene by Jaime Hernandez. 

I don’t recall Jaime using this method very often but when he does, it is spot on (from Love & Rockets #29, “Flies on the Ceiling“, 1989). Calling him a master storyteller isn’t enough, so let’s just agree that the guy’s a genius. Thanks for the reminder, Marc!


Discussion & Analysis Music Is Involved

Small Fame: Paris Is Burning

It took director Jennie Livingston several years to complete her debut film, the great 1991 documentary of the underground 80s New York City drag scene and its ball culture, Paris Is Burning. That timeline makes sense given Livingston’s level of care and attention to detail, as well as the difficulties of funding and finalizing such a controversial project. Touching upon the black/latino gay & transgender community is a huge undertaking in itself; developing a narrative for mainstream consumption couldn’t be anything but challenging.

In documenting ball culture, Livingston gives her subject matter the room it needs to address the details of this specific environment, but she peers just long enough to respect its boundaries. It’s a direct piece of work, reflecting on the participant’s lifestyle with little to no fanfare, no ambiguity. It’s a blunt mix of glamour and dirt and style and sweat. You can easily imagine being cramped up in those tiny NYC apartments in the middle of the summer, but you’d be too busy hanging onto every word coming out of Pepper LaBeija’s mouth to notice.

In a move that will surprise no one, I drew correlations between ball culture and the comics scene I deal with. It wasn’t my intention to do that – I enjoyed the movie on levels that have nothing to do with comics – but I noticed a couple of faint philosophical approaches that can be applied to our clubhouse. It’s a testament to the small group pulling together in order to move forward. That’s the Hallmark version of it but it doesn’t make it any less accurate.

Plus, any movie that starts with Noel’s freestyle classic Silent Morning automatically wins.

The film opens up with a father’s admonishment, “You have three strikes against you in this world… You’re black and you’re male and you’re gay. You’re going to have a hard fucking time. If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever imagined.” Paris Is Burning isn’t a mere portrayal of New York City drag in the 80s, that’s the obvious byline and it’s almost cheap to describe it as such. The real story is about being part of a subculture within a subculture. Despite or maybe in response to those three strikes (and other express concerns such as poverty and AIDS), this community developed its own nurturing, albeit competitive, social pool.

Gender roles and sexual identity operate as more than expression. It aims to reach for truth through an outside role. I don’t assume to know anybody’s motivation, nor do I want to describe it in blanket terms, but the members of this community do whatever they must to feel comfortable in their own skin, sometimes within roles that aren’t easy to hide, roles that shouldn’t be hidden to begin with.

The issue gets more complicated when you take gender identity issues and factor in the class rule of the times. Reaganomics didn’t cultivate an atmosphere that was kind to the poor, and although the glitz and the grime mingled in select club scenes, class crossovers were transient affairs. Fortune was not the domain of minorities, which makes the individual dreams expressed in Paris more fantastical than one would normally imagine. Whether it was dreams of fame or living a “regular” family life, they were always tempered with the more immediate thrill of shining at the ball. Dorian Corey put it best, “No magazine is gonna run up a cover of me if I go to a premiere. But it’s still a fame. It’s a small fame, but you absorb it, you take it, and you like it.”

Small fame is a version of something that’s just a placeholder for what we all want on a primal level, to be loved and accepted and recognized, and it may be too much to ask for. We may feed that longing for acceptance with cheap, empty dosages of pretend interaction, but it’s only because we need to feel something. If you press the issue, you’ll discover that Big Time Fame calls out to the worst in people, making them do deplorable things in the name of something that promises to love them back. As for people in the moment, though, like me writing this and you reading it, we look to reward ourselves by way of looking for proof that we are indeed loved. I’m still not quite sure if that’s an ugly thing or not.

Fame, how can something that has been cheapened still have so much power, and yet it never really meant anything?

Waiting to be famous is one of the subtexts in Paris, which in some regards isn’t unlike the Decline of the Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years directed by Penelope Spheeris. As far as movies that should be in print, you cannot find one more deserving that Decline 2. I clearly remember almost every featured band was shamelessly upfront about wanting nothing more than fame. The heartbreaking thing about Decline 2 is that you saw these future failures being unreasonably confident and sure that their success was simply a matter of time. Believing in yourself is one thing, but buying your own bullshit to the point where it’s probably masking some deeper damage is the stuff of sociopaths. There is something weird and sad about looking back knowing those bands’ trajectory, how they never made it within their own genre, and how that genre itself barely made it at all (Spheeris brilliantly ended the movie with a live Megadeth performance, perhaps as her final contrarian statement on the matter). That bulletproof certainty can cripple the people without the ability to call themselves out on their ridiculousness, and that’s the difference between those metal bands and the queens from 80s New York City.

Those attending the ball knew where they stood, as shaky a position as that was, and that small corner meant the world to them. It was a corner that went through many changes in a small amount of time, the way a vibrant and dangerous neighborhood makes room for a safer, richer citizen.

The spirit of that corner changes as it could no longer addresses the same concerns. But the fact that even the purest and most exciting of scenes will evolve into something arguably less magical makes it that much more special. It’s a thing that happens in the moment, and it’s usually gone by the time you notice it.

Those that make up the small world of comics may get genuinely excited about projects and creators and events, but it doesn’t come free from its own set of nonsense. Every art form has its fair share of problems, but I think comics are too small to survive this continued assault on ethical concerns, a treacherous value system, and a steady supply of self promotional delusion. This can be summarized as baby drama, especially if you throw in petty backbiting, but it still messes with our enthusiasm and stunts our growth.

It is the last thing I want to do, to compare 80s gay minority conflict to the troubles in comics, but the immediate connections I made were that both of our tiny worlds are made up of fragile egos driving an art form that’s punctuated by blips of innovation. I sensed joy and achievement in witnessing those ball competitions, especially knowing that poor kids had assembled gowns out of scraps just to shine for a night. Cartoonists want to shine in that spotlight as much as the next, but it stings when that spotlight is considered useless by the majority of those inhabiting that same small world.

It’s possible that we’re just desperately grappling onto something that’s shrinking, something that promises little more than diminishing returns. How can we expect our very own corner of the world to nurture us in economical and artistic ways when it clearly isn’t built to do so?

Therefore, all we’re left with is our own relationship to the medium. We have to dig deeper and find out what our little corner means to us on a personal level, outside of baby drama, outside of small fame. We can’t put any stock into those things that suck our enthusiasm dry. We have to ask ourselves what the point of all of this is, and then have the courage to be honest with the answers we come up with. We may not like them, but our survival as participants in this unequivocally complex medium rests on it.

Paris Is Burning, it’s a beautiful and brutal film. I can’t stop thinking about it. I would’ve been fine watching it once and tallying it as a movie I liked, but it wasn’t built for such passive treatment. It speaks to a larger thing that’s made more potent in context of the underdog.

“I always had hopes of being a big star. As you get older you aim a little lower and say oh, well, you still might make an impression. Then you think [you’ll leave] a mark on the world if you just get through it, and if a few people remember your name then you left a mark. You don’t have to bend the whole world. I think it’s better to just enjoy it, pay your dues. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high… hooray for you.” –Dorian Corey

Discussion & Analysis

You Look Different Now

The Comics Reporter recently asked its readers to throw in some suggestions for the Five For Friday feature. One of my original proposals was that we list four of our childhood favorites that stood the test of time and one that did not. Not all of us read comics as children, though, and how amusing could our youthful tastes really be? CR modified the request accordingly, and the results came in. Go, Read: You Look Different Now. I’d like to now take this opportunity to give you a run down of those choices that still do it for me:

1. Batman: Ten Nights of the Beast by Jim Starlin & Jim Aparo.

First off, how are you not going to pick up a comic with a cover like this?

Discussion & Analysis

Pool of Inspiration

Sometimes in the middle of a project I come up with a bunch of theories, questions, concerns, and self imposed rules about how to visually treat comics. The solutions are almost always right in front of me, as if I had this backlog of information that I’m subconsciously ignoring. All it takes to unlock this stuff is to actually read some comics. So I want to break down a few of the things I’ve been wrestling with by going through some of the comics I’ve had around, artist by artist, and briefly talk about what excites me about their work and how it relates to my own thought process.