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

Thursday, 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.

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

Monday, 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.

Great Comic Pages: All Star Superman #5, pg18

Tuesday, 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.

My Favorite Comic Page So Far This Year

Saturday, 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.