Monday, 8 July 2013

Eye on Hawkeye #11 Pt. 3

Or layout, timing, and why this issue is brilliant as a conventional comic too
By Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth

I've noticed that Hawkeye #11 has gotten a lot of press for how amazing a comic book it is (which it totally is!) But a lot of this discussion has been predicated on how Hawkeye #11 breaks comic rules, or tackles problems not typically faced by comics in really innovative, creative ways (which it does!). But something that is maybe being lost in all of this is the masterful ways Hawkeye #11 uses the rules, the conventional language of comics, to create subtly brilliant sequences within the more unorthodox dog-ifying experimentation in the issue. And I think this should be commented on too.

I'm going to highlight a single page from the issue and all the really effective layout choices that, presumably, David Aja made to set the visual pace of the scene and to create extra weight and drama to the acton depicted.

There will be the mildest of *SPOILERS* here, in that I will only be describing the contents of a single page in the last third of the comic. That said, you should probably just read the thing already.

One of the things I've been really fascinated by with Hawkeye and Daivd Aja's artwork is how he guides our eyes through the page to create flow, or motion, or impact. And this page has all kinds of layout magic in it and is absolutely brilliant comics.

Across the top of the page the individual panels have contents that create guidelines which direct the eye across the page and to highlight points of interest. In the first panel we see Pizza Dog thrust into the page, which conveys motion but also directs our eyes to the top left corner of the second panel. In the second panel, the cocking pistol makes a solid line that directs our eyes to the bottom left corner of the third panel where Pizza Dog is biting the Tracksuit Dracula. Pizza Dog's face points up to the top right corner of the third panel, where we see Handlebar-guy's face and location (which is a key bit of info for the next row). Our eye then travels left and down from Handlebar-guys face to the pistol in the fourth panel, maybe passing through the shell casing (mine did) and maybe passing down the barrel of the pistol to the mussel-flash. All of this eye-guiding allows us to rapidly sight through the page and catch all of the key visual information quickly. It makes these top panels feel very fast, very actiony.

Another cool thing in this page is how the top right panel in the first row directly leads into the left-most panel in the second round. Our eyes, drawn down the barrel of the firing pistol then whip across the page in a carriage return that leads directly to the bullet-wound in the leg of Handlebar guy. Our eyes actually FOLLOW the path of the bullet across the page, which creates the sense of speed and motion of the travelling bullet. How cool is that?!

The second row of panels has some cool layout-driving-eyeballs effects too. Except, instead of having a cohesive path across the composition, this row has disjointed opposing eye guides. This makes the panels flow AGAINST each other. This makes every panel take longer, and feel heavier and more jarring. And since each of these panels feature an impact, it makes each of these blows feel more weighty and dramatic. It's great stuff.

And these composition elements in this second row of panels are further enhanced by the colouring of Matt Hollingsworth. By varying the background colour between panels it helps make each panel feel even more disjointed and impactful. Colouring is important!

The third row of panels again has a nice, clean straight line across the composition. On the left-most panel, a diagonal line runs, more-or-less, straight through the bloddied injuries of the four combatants. It again alows for the quick motion through the relevant visual information and speeds the panels up. It makes this whole row feel like a single moment, that deep-breathe-beat in a fight where all the combatants take stock of their situation. 

This moment is further enhanced by colouring. By giving Lucky a yellow background and the Tracksuit Dracula's blue backgrounds it instantly shows how the odds are stacked against Pizza Dog in the fight. Synergy!

(Also, is just me or does the left-most panel feel blue despite a total lack of blue in the panel? I wonder if it is the blue in the next panel over, or the blue backgrounds in the other white-gloved frames in the pave.)

The last row of panels has nice clean eye-directing elements which guide the along the trajectories of both characters in the row. Once again, this adds flow between panels and makes the sequence feel faster. And the solid black panel feels like a heavy, definite, crunching stop.

Another layout choice that is pretty cool on this page has to do with how he we see the Assassin character. We never see his face. Instead we see close cropped shots of hands or feet reaching into the panel, always doing something, always casually changing the status quo. And all of this makes the Assassin seem menacing and creepy and in charge of the situation. Just another great way layout choices can convey extra information.

So there you have it, Hawkeye #11, despite being an experimental comic from a dog's perspective with some really fun character parallels and story elements, is also really great comics from a conventional storytelling sense. This might just be one of the best single issues of comics ever as much for how masterfully it does its normal business as for how it performs its more exotic experiments.



  1. Excellent analysis of an amazing page. On first reading, I was caught up in the tension of the action - only by going back to it do I see how clever it was, technically.

    1. Thanks!

      It really is an exciting page, and this whole post is just the layout/art/colouring. I mean, we could probably write an equally long thing about broader story choices too. Like, Team Hawkguy spends the issue (and series) making us care about Pizza Dog, establishes The Assassin guy as a scary dude in Hawkeye #10, and totally cut out the safety net with the murder of Grills. It's just way harder to write about writing... it's like ineffable magic smoke or something.