Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Deep Sequencing: Injection Volume 1

Or a look at my favourite storytelling in Injection Volume 1
by Warren Ellis, Declan Shavley, Jordie Bellaire, and Fonograficks; Image Comics

I really like Injection. Unfortunately, I read the first trade for the series shortly before my life became the most busy and the update schedule of Atoll Comics was greatly reduced. Which means I've never sat down and written about some of the really cool comics going on here. Well today this changes! Today I write about some of what I like about Injection!

There will be *SPOILERS* below.




I love the storytelling in Injection. I picked this action sequence because I think it's a good example of the masterful compositions of the comic and because it's rad as hell. The engine of this composition is how it interacts with the reader eye to provide an impactful and seamless reading experience. 

Page 1: The sequence opens dramatically, with very little context, and a character flying against the natural reading direction. This disorients the reader, creates a dramatic moment, and sets the tone for a totally rad fight scene. This is followed by three panels that essentially carry through a single motion of the Big Thug smashing Simeon, the agent-type-guy, into the ceiling. The long clear motion arc imparts speed and, by crossing panel boundaries, creates a sense of momentum that increases the perceived force of the motion. To continue the sense of disorientation, the panels depicting the ceiling-slam also have an unfixed frame of reference that result in unorthodox perspectives that build up the chaotic sense of the fight. It's dramatic and wild and yet still clear and eminently readable.

Page 2: The next page takes smooth, guided tangents that impart a breathless speed and sets the stage for the kitchen brawl. It provides context for the scene change, reads quickly, and provides a quiet moment of contrast for the more violent moments in the sequence. 

Page 3: The magic of this page is the skillet swing perpetrated by the Big Thug. The motion of the swing begins in the top right corner of the page and carries through the entire page, in a single clear arc. This provides the swing with a tremendous amount of speed, momentum, and force. It's simple, but the effect is absolutely perfect: the impact of the pan striking Simeon feels significant and painful. If I were going to compile a collection of example pages everyone should look at, this would certainly make the cut. 

Page 4: The next page combines the same elements again to make for another dramatic page. The top panel has two opposing motions that meet in the other: a vector along the arm of Big Thug along the reading direction which slams into the arc of the knife. It's impactful and gets the reader set to swoop through the multiple panel stab, which transitions smoothly along a tangent to Simeon's cocked-back arm, which then slams down along the reading path into the bottom panel and the page turn...

Page 5: ... which after the turn transitions right into Big Thug's face exploding as Simeon fires his weapon. An event that again acts against the predominant reading direction to enhance surprise, impact, and the visceral horror of the moment. It's great evocative comics.

Which, when taken together is one of the most compelling action sequences I've read in a comic lately.


Another thing that I really liked about Injection was how colouring and shading were used to distinguish between contemporary story sections and flashbacks. Flashbacks in the comic have a soft, bright look that creates sunny, optimistic world. This aesthetic is achieved in part through the use of slightly desaturated harmonious colours, adjacent colours on a colour wheel which blend together to create a mellow unified vision. The modern, post-Injection world of the comic has a much grittier, more granular palette. Colours are bolder and more varied on the page, particularly heavy, sketchy shadows are deployed, and everything is generally darker. It's an aesthetic that feels heavier and somehow more real. When contrasted, these two approaches quietly establish a clear demarcation between the past and present in the comic and build a distinct emotional contrast between the naive and optimistic characters planning to change the future and the haunted and more complex reality of the post-injection world. Great stuff.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Pondering About Pretty Deadly #8

Or some thoughts on colour in Pretty Deadly #8
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Something that I continue to find fascinating about the current iteration of Pretty Deadly is just how dream-like the comic is. Between the lyrical story, indistinct yawning battlefields, and supernatural elements, Pretty Deadly feels to me like its constructed out of the collision of a dream and a nightmare. Pretty Deadly #8 takes this sense to the next level, letting the supernatural elements take centre stage, and really unleashing some truly feverish artwork. It's horrible and beautiful and effective. An important element of why this comic is so effective is a great use of colour.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Pretty Deadly #8.

The battlefields of Pretty Deadly are muted, dark places. Instead of a colourful world, filled with verdant life, the battlefields are barren places constructed of desaturated colours: greys and grey-browns and grey-olive-drabs. I'd say it's as if the world has been bleached, but the overall colour palette is also particularly dark, colours showing a certain black tone that further increases the gloom of the page and gives the artwork a kind of claustrophobic heaviness. The effect, when summed up makes the battlefields of Pretty Deadly feel like nocturnal zones, a kind of world of twilight that to makes me think of sleep and alienation and a kind dream-logic gulf. It's effective stuff that I think really showcases just how lost and lonely Cyrus, the protagonist of the comic, is. 

Pretty Deadly #8 also introduces a new colour palette that takes a different approach that adds to nightmarishness. The comic features the confrontation between The Horsemen Big Alice and Deathface Ginny and the rogue Horseman of War as well as their proxy/allied armies. This conflict happens in the midst of green clouds of toxic gas and the whirling blood and viscera that are hallmarks and visual signs of War and his power. This choice significantly enhances the nightmare quality of the page. One of the fundamental aspects of colour theory (and really about the limit of my understanding of it) is that certain colours are 'complementary', that they are opposite colours that essentially clash in a way that is striking to the eye. Red and Green are such colour complements, and their use together here makes both colours surge off the page with a feverish intensity. It feels and looks unnatural, lending to the nightmare reality of the comic. It also, when contrasted against the dark, muted palette of the usual battlefield, makes the green/red pages painfully intense. The switch from green/red page to dark/barren page gives the issue a seething pulse, that again evokes the feelings of nightmares and malaise. It's... so effective that staring at the colours now to write about them is enough to get my vertigo going a little and make me feel nauseated. It's great stuff.

Pretty Deadly #8 is a noxious fever dream, and its colours are enough to make me feel sick.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sussing Spider-Woman #3

Or a look at the very clever storytelling in Spider-Woman #3
by Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez, Rachelle Rosenburg, and Travis Lanham

I know I write entirely too much about Spider-Woman. I was going to skip some issues, try and write about something else for a change, prove I still read other comics. But dang, Spider-Woman #3 does some interesting things that are really worth talking about.

So, I guess I'm writing another post about Spider-Woman.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Spider-Woman #3 below.

The thing that I love about Spider-Woman as a comic, both as a reader and an art wonk, is the clever way storytelling needs are incorporated into layout to create interesting, evocative sequences of comics. The above sequence, that has Spider-Woman and the other Space-Moms crawling through some sort of utility space, is a great example of this. The way the main storytelling panels on this page snake around and below setting panels instantly conveys the situation in a clear way. It also manages to capture the claustrophobia, the slow progress, and the dangerous proximity to the Skrull invaders in an effective way. It's a great storytelling solution that makes this page really fun to read.

But it's this sequence here that is the reason I have to write about this comic. The story of the issue has a very pregnant Jessica Drew go on a quest through an alien-hopsital-space-station to retrieve help. This sequence showcases Spider-Woman navigating a bizarre labyrinth that involves swimming through an aquatic ward, some sort of elaborate mechanical room, and a lovecraftian giant alien thing on the way. What is great about this sequence is how clearly it manages to convey complex motions: despite moving in and out of the plane of the page, it is always very clear just where Jessica is going. This, I think, is due in part to character design. The heavy, black limbs of Spider-Woman's costume/outfit serve to exaggerate whatever shape Jessica's body is in, which allows the creative team to turn her silhouette into guiding tangent lines which can steer the readers attention. This is used to great effect throughout these pages. This sequence is also pretty great for just how weird the environments are: the aquatic ward is imaginative and fun; the machine room is chaotic, filled with odd geometries, and constructed of sound effects; and the monster room uses panel size and scale to create a yawning moment of oddity. This is great comics.

The thing that elevates this sequence from great to brilliant is this next bit. In the comic Spider-Woman navigates the alien maze, fetches the help she was looking for, and then must retrace her steps back to her point of origin. This is conveyed by having Jessica Drew run along the plane of the page across panels depicting the four zones she just finished navigating. Critically, each zone-panel has the core colour and design elements of the above sequence, so it is instantly obvious that Jessica is retracing her steps. I am also really impressed by the choice to have Jessica run along the surface of the page since it is just fourth-wall-breaking enough to be clearly a symbol representing her trip and not the literal depiction. It conveys the information of the retread in a way that hints at the larger, more difficult journey, but which also doesnt expend a lot of page space or force the reader to view recycled material. It is a gloriously smart bit of comics.

However you might feel about corporate comics or Spider-Woman as character or concept, this comic is worth reading.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Staring At Scarlet Witch #2

Or a look at layout motif in Scarlet Witch #2
by James Robinson, Marco Rudy, and Cory Petit; Marvel Comics

Scarlet Witch is a comic about a Marvel character who I have middling affinity for, but which is showcasing a rotating group of exciting artists, so I'm reading it anyway. The most recent issue features artwork by Marco Rudy who continues to combine his gorgeous painting with innovative comics layout to create really interesting pages of comics. And here are some of my favourite pages.

There will be *SPOILERS* below.

An aspect of Marco Rudy's comics that I really enjoy is how layout is used to build theme motifs into the page. On the left, Greecian-urn style interlocking panels carry the conversational aspects, which creates space to show the gorgeous hillside town,  but also helps give the artwork a foreign, Greek aspect to help establish a sense of place. Meanwhile, the pages featuring the Minotaur often feature twisting, labyrinthine panels that both tie the artwork to the idea of the monster and which also create a tortured, uncomfortable aspect to the page. When compared, the two layout are remarkably different and help differentiate sections of the comics to create distinct, emotionally charged moments. It's always remarkable how effective layout can be as a storytelling element.

This is probably my favourite layout from the issue. For one, it is absolutely gorgeous from a pure picture-type perspective; there is something to be said about things just looking nice. This layout also does a great job catching the feeling of the moment: the fluid panels capture the sense of ocean waves and breezes and help build a tactile sense of place into the comic. The layout is also quite adept in that the wavey elements of the comic boil out of The Scarlet Witch's head, helping to convey that this  is a conversation occurring on a mental/mystical plane and not in the physical world. It is always pretty great when a layout encodes important narrative information into its fabric. This is just a really, remarkably nuanced sequence that is visually interesting and clear to read.

It is also a pretty interesting sequence of comics due to the very active role that lettering plays in increasing readability. The underlying artwork, to me, is somewhat open to reading multiple ways. To my eye, it generally originates in the lower left corner and vectors outward across the page in a sort of explosion of panels. Meanwhile the lettering provides a clear path from panel-to-panel through the fluid panels which keys the reader into a logical order. Taken together, you get the grand vistas of the page but also a roadmap for navigating it. It's great comics.