Great Comic Pages: Berlin, City of Smoke, pgs 26+27

September 18th, 2008

Two pages from Jason Lutes‘ spectacular Berlin, City of Smoke, the second volume of his story of late ’20s/early ’30s Berlin. If you haven’t been reading it, you really should be. Go buy Berlin, City of Stones, the first volume, and Berlin, City of Smoke, which came out in trade last week. My apologies for the poor quality of the scans - I had to do ‘em myself, and, well, I’m not good at scanning.

Anyway - these two pages just burst out at me when I was reading Berlin last night. They’re facing each other, towards the end of the first issue of this volume. I’ve been fascinated with visual representations of sound in comics for a while now - American Flagg’s lettering and sound effects, Simonson’s sound effects, Todd Klein’s lettering, etc…but this is something different. This isn’t text as sound - this is panel layout and positioning as sound. I can’t honestly tell you exactly what the sound *is*, admittedly. It’s been a long time since I played clarinet, and I was quite awful at it even then. But it’s very clear that the musician is playing jazz - look at how he’s moving the clarinet, emphasizing notes by lifting or dropping the clarinet, even spinning at around at one point. The size of the panels conveys a sense of time - here, that means a sense of the duration of notes. You can even pick up on a repeated theme - the three groups of three panels focusing on the bottom of the clarinet definitely imply some sort of rising and falling pattern.

Music is a key theme in Berlin - for example, later in this book, Lutes represents this same musician responding to a Bach record with his own jazz by depicting the collision and merging of two streams of musical notes. But these two pages are uniquely amazing: Lutes manages to make you feel as if you’re listening to the musician playing without using a single traditional visual signifier of sound - no text, no notes, nothing. That’s some nifty composition right there.

Friends! Posting Things!

August 26th, 2008

As part of the ongoing 50 Things meme david has unleashed upon the world, two friends of mine have their own lists up - well, one full 50 item list and one 5 item list. First, there’s Jeff Lester over at Savage Critic(s), with his 50 Things, broken down thematically. Second, there’s the debut of my very good friend Esther over at 4thletter!, with five artists who make her love comics. Read them both, and enjoy.

Ok, So That Johns Post Isn’t Happening Any Time Soon

August 25th, 2008

It’s just not coming together right - I’ll pick it up and try again another time. In the meantime, I’m doing some research on page structure in American comics - I’m going through works by, among others, Los Bros Hernandez, Quitely, Giffen, Ditko, Kirby, Miller, Chaykin, Moore, McNeil, Infantino - and I’m trying to figure out who else I really want to look at. What I’m doing is going through a chunk of each of these creators’ work, and finding examples of innovative, influential, or just damned nifty page structure. Most of the people I’m looking at are artists, obviously, but Moore sneaks in, thanks to his ridiculous scripts. I’ll hopefully have my first one of these posts by the end of the week - if there’s anyone I should be looking at and haven’t mentioned, please, let me know.

Legion! Legion! Legion!

August 21st, 2008

…get it? Three Legions? Legion of Three Worlds? Oh, but I am witty. Ok, not really. Anyway, Legion of Three Worlds #1 came out yesterday. Favorite bits so far:

  • A reappearance of the Xenophobic Jackass Future Kents from the Action story.
  • Superboy Prime lighting said Xenophobic Jackass Future Kents up.
  • The Hall of 1,000 Olsens.
  • The shoutout to the original Nightwing and Flamebird (is any of that in continuity at this point, or was it all wiped out by Crisis on Infinite Earths/Man of Steel?).
  • Prime whining about how he liked the old Legion costumes better (Geoff Johns’ interpretation of Superboy Prime could best be described as “Whiney Internet Fanboy with Godly Powers”, so it’s fitting that he’d bitch about Legion costume designs, an eternal kvetching point of Legion fandom).
  • Sun Boy strangely reminding me of Dirk in Giffen’s 5YG.
  • Superman’s always been the inspiration for the Legion of Super-Heroes - so Superboy Prime turning out to be the inspiration for the Legion of Super-Villains is kind of fun.
  • The erstwhile end of the Legion coming when the original three fail to save RJ Brande from an assassination attempt (when, of course, the Legion started when the original three successfully saved Brande from an assassination attempt).
  • Said assassination highlighting this very important Legion-related lesson: Never trust anyone in a purple hooded robe.
  • The idea that victory over Prime won’t come from beating the tar out of him but by redeeming him.
  • And, most importantly, nearly everything Perez drew - especially his Time Trapper and the entry to the Superman Museum.

Bits I didn’t care for quite as much: Perez’s Brainiac 5 - not entirely his fault, mind you; that hair is just icky looking, the awkwardness of Brainy’s “Hey, let’s get those kid Legions from other universes here too!” suggestion. Not bad, really. I’m not yet willing to pass judgment on the book as a whole, since we’re only 1 of 5 issues in and all, but Perez is the perfect artist for it, Prime is one of my favorite villains, and hey, it’s the Legion. For more thorough annotations and commentary, check out Michael Grabois at the Legion Omnicom, Timothy Callahan (the editor of the forthcoming Teenagers from the Future Legion essay collection I’ve mentioned before), and Douglas Wolk, who is like unto a god of comics criticism and annotating. Also, check out Callahan’s essential Legion reading list - it doubles as a decent quick summary of the Legion’s publishing history.

Fifty Things I Like/Love About Comics

August 20th, 2008

So david brothers threw down a gauntlet - it’s the Hembeck Challenge: list fifty things you like/love about comics. david went with a list grouped by theme - Gavok one-upped him with a list with visuals for each item. I thought about going with 50 pages I loved, but decided that I’d rather save those for individual posts…and good god, that’d take a while. So what’d I go with? Well, how about fifty comics I love? Not single issues specifically - these can be representative of a series, an issue, a storyline, a book, whatever. The key point is that there’s 50, and the covers for each of ‘em are below the break.

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Great Comic Pages: All Star Superman #5, pg18

August 19th, 2008

All Star Superman #5, pg18 - Morrison and Quitely

All Star Superman #5, pg18 -
Morrison and Quitely

It’s not hard to love All Star Superman. If you like comics, and you’ve read All Star Superman, you like it. Period. It’s Grant Morrison’s perfect little ode to everything great about 1960s Weisinger-edited Superman, with his own manic creativity and favorite toys (Qwewq the Infant Universe! Solaris the Tyrant Sun!) pulled in. But it’s Quitely’s art that takes it to the next level.

Now, admittedly, he’s not quite as brilliant here as is in We3. He’s working within the confines of a superhero book this time, and doesn’t have the excuse of replicating the experience of cyborg pet killing machines. The panel structure tends to be traditional, designed to invoke Silver Age memories. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any non-rectangular panels - except for the two on this page.

That visual representation of the force of Superman inducing an earthquake to send Parasite through the floor is just amazing - notice how the right side of the second panel, which is the side closest to Parasite, is crumbling, with bits beginning to fly out of the panel’s rectangle. But on the left side, where Superman is stomping, the floor is flatter, the walls less cracked - in fact, if you don’t look carefully at Superman’s feet and see that his right foot is in the air, with his left foot hitting the floor and creating a crack, it’d be easy to believe the same thing Luthor does, that Parasite’s weight is causing the “quake”.

And then on the third panel, the floor - and the negative space between panels - collapses. The bordering white is used to represent both the collapsing floor, and the buckling floor below. By showing the very structure the page is built on breaking, cracking, and warping, we get an almost visceral sense of the force of Parasite’s fall. He hits so hard that he causes waves in the floor - that’s just nifty.

Strangely shaped panels, panels breaking through their borders, etc - this can all serve as valuable storytelling tools, but they lose a lot of their force when they’re used all the time. By sticking to the rectangular panel so rigorously up until this point, Quitely gets more of an impact when he does break out of it.

iPhone App Developers: This is What I Want!

August 18th, 2008

Ok, so a few app developers have stopped by my earlier post on the iPhone and digital comics, and Sherm over at has had a few visit him as well, so in light of that (and Sherm’s most recent post, in which he lays out how he’s using DataCase in the same manner I talked about using Files, Caravan, et al), I thought I’d collect my thoughts on what I’d like to see in an iPhone app in order to support reading digital comics. They’re below the break.

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Prepping for Legion of Three Worlds

August 16th, 2008

Next Wednesday, I get my filthy little hands on Legion of Three Worlds. I’ve been prepping for this by, well, reading a lot of Legion. Watch this space for commentary and possibly annotations - Michael over at Legion Omnicom will be doing annotations, probably better than I ever could, but hey, we’ll see. My plan is to take advantage of my massive stash of Legion issues (somehow, I magically have access to just about every Legion story ever, excepting some of the Adventure stories - thank you, Interwebs!) to provide you with background information on what Johns ends up referencing, but obviously, I have no way of doing that ’til I actually have the book. =)

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet read Giffen’s Five Year Gap Legion, you really, really should. Except, of course, that it’s not in print, which is a shame, because it’s really one of the most amazing pieces of superhero comics you’ll ever see. Julian Darius over at Sequart has a phenomenal 12 part essay on Giffen’s run that is very much worth reading. It starts with this essay - there are links to the rest on the sidebar.

That essay is also collected in the forthcoming “Teenagers from the Future”, a collection of essays edited by Timothy Callahan of Sequart. I’ve been yearning for this book for ages - they had copies at their table at NYCC, but I forgot to have someone pick one up for me, and they weren’t at SDCC. Callahan was interviewed by Newsarama about that book and his book on Grant Morrison’s early years a couple weeks ago - it’s a good read.

EDIT: I think I may have found a way to actually get that book - seems to be selling it, printing on demand. I just ordered it. We’ll see how long I have to wait. =)


August 11th, 2008

From Wikipedia’s entry on Armand Hammer:

In fact, according to multiple biographers, Hammer was named after the “Arm and Hammer” symbol of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP), in which his father, a committed socialist, had a leadership role at one time.

david brother’s reaction:

people shouldn’t hate their children.

In general, I just love that there was someone honest-to-god named Armand Hammer. The fact that he may have been a Soviet agent just makes it even better. david’s right: He should have been a supervillain.

My Favorite Comic Page So Far This Year

August 9th, 2008

This page blows my mind.

written by Grant Morrison, art by J.G. Jones

written by Grant Morrison, art by J.G. Jones

Now, admittedly, I’m a sucker for 9 panel grids. That’s the lasting influence Watchmen has had on me - a love for rigid panel structure. That’s part of wy my favorite Legion comics of all time are the Five Year Gap books of LSH v4 - Giffen deliberately challenged himself to set everything within the 9 panel grid, and it made the book far more artistically interesting than it would have been otherwise. But this is just a great page by any means. (I should note that the dotting effect in the colors is an artifact of the scan, not on the page itself)

In the first two panels, you’ve got one scene, split across the two. Your sense of space is thrown off by the foreground being consistent between the two panels while the background differs, the receding checker boxes drawing your eyes up and to the border between the two panels, but without actually implying perspective. And then you’re lured over to panel 4 - the coloring keeps you from just instinctively continuing on to panel 3. Panel 4 gives us the Question vanishing…replaced by a smoke question mark, which is just cute. Panel 5 ends the indoor scene, and then we’re kind of thrown off - exactly where do we go next?

Ah, the bottom-left - the bubble in panel 5 says “We’ll pick up Montoya on the street,” and lo and behold, there she is, foreground, largest object in any of the blue-colored panels, with blue smoke floating off her back. That all combines to draw our eyes, even though this also goes against instinct a bit. Panels 7, 8, and 9 are all from the same perspective, of the same scene, but we get the passage of time from Montoya’s movement. And then our eyes are drawn upwards - the color consistency again, and the fact that panel 9 is partially lit by the streetlights in panel 6. The facade on the left of panels 6 and 3 gives us the impression that the red-colored panels are actually taking place within that building - a nifty effect. And lastly, we get pulled up to panel 3, and the tear in reality that will shortly spit out Overgirl.

We can’t quite fit panels 3 and 6 chronologically in relation to the rest of the page - are they happening at the end of the events on the page, as the visual path we’re taken on suggests? Or are they simultaneous to the activities on panels adjacent to them, as normal comic reading would imply? I don’t honestly know. Either way works for me.

So yeah. I freakin’ love this page. It’s laid out in a very interesting manner, using the panel structure itself to get its point across. Great stuff.