Friday, 15 February 2013

Deep Sequencing: Atomic Robo And The Dogs Of War

Or a closer look at Atomic Robo And The Dogs Of War
By Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, Red 5 Comics

Comics are essentially words and pictures arranged to sequentially convey a story narrative. As such they have a kind of visual language. In North America the sequence of art and events flows from left to right and from top to bottom. Like the words in this blog, but, you know, beautiful pictures that tell a story instead of barely articulate prose.

Typically this visual language manifests as some variation of grid or grid-like layout punctuated by the odd full page image for impact or double page splash for double-impact. This is, in a hugely oversimplified sense, the default storytelling approach. And as such, it's a big comfortable pipeline for narrative information flow for people who are used to sequential art in comics.

The thing is there are some pretty spectacular and interesting things that happen when creators ignore the standard approach and try something else.

Atomic Robo And The Dogs Of War, by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, is a fun adventure comic about a sass mouthed Robot fighting evil Nazi Science during World War II. It's a pleasant comic to look at throughout, but it's especially interesting in chapter 3 which sees Atomic Robo and British agent the Sparrow collide in their attempt to capture evil Nazi Scientists aboard a train.

Mild *SPOILERS* exist beyond this point.

See, rather than use the standard left-to-right top-down grid, Clevinger and Wegener tell the first half of this chapter by breaking the page into thirds that are happening concurrently. That is to say on any given page the top panel occurs at about the same time that the second panel and third panel occur. Each third of the page has its own character focus, and from page to page tells a discrete sequential story that follows the Nazi Scientists, Robo, and Agent Sparrow respectively. It's a fairly simple seeming approach for telling separate simultaneous storylines, but its super effective.

And of course, this all gets even more clever as the three simultaneous, and yet separate story lines, collide with characters and elements from previously isolated narratives barge into the other narratives. It's a really clever and great way to pay off the separated storyline approach before returning to more conventional comic storytelling.

Which I guess is all my way of saying that Clevinger and Wegener are good at comics. I think Atomic Robo is a remarkable comic that manages to be an accessible, all ages friendly adventure comic that also manages to be funny. And I think that, in a way that maybe doesn't get its due, Atomic Robo is remarkable in execution, in both the conventional and unconventional craft the creators display in telling their stories about a sass mouthed Robot fighting Nazis.

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