Monday, 30 November 2015

Deep Sequencing: Colourful Magic

Or a look at the use of colour as magic in Phonogram #4 and Doctor Strange #1
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles/Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Cory Petit

An aspect of comics that I've found pretty fascinating lately is how different creators find ways to convey magic in their artwork. Making impossible, natural rule-breaking phenomena feel interesting and weird and significant can really help make a story work so finding a way to make magic visually cool is pretty important. I have seen all kinds of tricks used, including some endlessly cool compositions that violate the rules of comics storytelling in fourth-wall-breaking, disbelief stretching ways. Which, of course, works really well! But the thing is, sometimes simpler storytelling tricks work really well too, and one of the most effective ways of making magic feel significant is a really straightforward use of colours.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Phonogram #4 and Doctor Strange #1

 One of the central conceits of Phonogram is that music literally is magic. Which, as someone who enjoys music, but isn't really transcended by it, is a cool metaphor for a metaphor for being really into something. But even I have to admit that magic has an ability to recontextualize a moment: I have definitely caught myself strutting to the badass tones of Tomoyasu Hotei's Battle Without Honour of Humanity while walking to the bus first thing in the morning. Which is an experience of music involuntarily changing my motion and attitude in a way that is beyond casual explanation; that is basically magical. Or put another way: the music coloured my experience. And Phonogram uses literal colour to show the magic of music in it's pages. It's a choice that does a brilliant job demarcating the bleak mundanity of normal, music-less life, and the way music can cut through the mundanity to generate magical, new experiences. Even strutting to the bus first thing in the morning.

Part of the first issue of Doctor Strange is the idea that the Sorcerer Supreme is lives in a supernatural, unseen world that straddles our own, doing weird doctor things to benefit we mundane folk. The comic uses a similar trick to Phonogram, where colour is used to highlight magical events. In this case though, the magical-colour shares space with a black-and-white mundane word. The brilliance of this is it showcases how vibrant and, well, strange the supernatural world is when compared to the everyday world of regular people. It also does a great job at highlighting the super position of the two worlds: the magical world is layered over the mundane world in a way that is completely distinct and separate, yet still inhabiting a common storytelling space. This is how this magical world exists here, and this is how Dr. Strange is able to move between them as a magician in a very simple, understandable comic composition. Which is really effective storytelling.

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