Monday, 21 July 2014

Worshiping The Wicked + The Divine #2

Or black, black, and more black in The Wicked + The Divine #2
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Space in a comic is precious. It costs time and money to print a page of comics, and the market being what it is, there is a practical limit to how long a monthly comic can be. Therefore every single inch of a comic is, or at least should be treated as, finite prime real estate to pack in as much story as possible. In an ideal comic, every scrap of space is utilized to optimally convey narrative or action or mood or emotion. And, as a reasonable extension, the more space used on a given story aspect  the more important that thing is, or ought to be.

The Wicked + The Divine devotes a surprising amount of comics real estate to empty black space.

I was going to do something clever and work out the approximate percent of the comic that is just black space, but I've leant my copies of WicDiv to a comics-casual friend. So, yeah, I can't actually do that by deadline. But trust me, it's a lot of black space. Edit: Apparently the issue is actually longer than normal to accommodate this added black space without removing other room for story since Team WicDiv are cool like that. This is what happens when you try to be cute without the issue on hand. Still, I think it's interesting that they felt the need to go so far as to add pages to accommodate the black space.

Which is actually a really effective and interesting storytelling choice.

There will be *SPOILERS* for The Wicked + The Divine #2 in this post.

WicDiv #2 has a few moving parts, but one of the major chunks of story has Laura visiting an underground concert held by The Morrigan. The Morrigan, it would appear, is goth as fuck and holds her shows off the beaten track and down, down in an abandoned (?) section of the London Underground. And the generous use of black in WicDiv #2 is a tool to generate the atmosphere and emotion of The Morrigan's concert.

From a purely story logistics perspective the use of black really emphasizes just how far underground, how subterranean The Morrigan's concert is. Like this page (above) we see Laura approaching the concerts entrance on top of a chain of white dialogue floating in a black void that traces down to the bottom of the page. This tells us that Laura starts on the surface and the story progresses down below the surface of the Earth. So far down that the dialogue climbing into the inky black doesn't yet reach the bottom and continues for additional pages of black. Down and down and down and down. Down that is evocative of a heroes journey to the Underworld down.

This use of black is also really effective at drawing out the anticipation of the moment and building up The Morrigan's concert. By placing so much black space and comic real estate between the entrance to the event and the actual site of the event WicDiv #2 emphasizes how important this conert is by showing the lengths The Morrigan's faithful are willing to go to see her. It becomes at once reminiscent of a night time religious rite, carried out in secret in the darkness, and emblematic of the nature of waiting for a show or event: that special dragged out anticipation for a thing that is about to happen. And by combining these two experiences through the use of blankness and space, WicDiv #2 continues to shows us the common DNA between religious worship and being in an audience at a performance. 

(Also, how great is the use of a cell phone flashlight to highlight Laura on the escalator (stairs?). Such an organic simple choice that instantly makes Laura obvious and jump out on the page.)

But beyond establishing setting, beyond building anticipation, the most effective aspect of the liberal use of black in WicDiv #2 is atmosphere. The Morrigan is goth as fuck, a goddess of the underworld and there is nothing as goth as black. Or rather, there is nothing so goth as DARKNESS. Because there is just something about darkness that our idiot mammal brains interpret as danger and mystery and important. And the magic of the liberal black in WicDiv #2 is that it, in a static, two-dimensional picture, captures expansive darkness. It creates the sense of darkness without discernible boundaries: the depth of a well we can't see the bottom of, or the black weight of cavern ceiling pressing down and the accompanying emotion of enigmatic dread. Which is totally goth as fuck.

My argument is this sense of atmosphere directly rises out of the amount of space devoted to black in WicDiv #2. For the sake of this argument, imagine that all of the pages of black space were condensed into a single page (like above) that has all of the narrative necessary elements but with less black and using less story real estate. Would it work the same? Or would it loose it's mysterious inky depths and the drawn out anticipation for the appearance of The Morrigan. I think the alternate approach is much less effective...


(Seriously, this next bit has *GIANT SPOILERS* for the issue, so stop here if you haven't read the comic yet.)

.... especially in light of the bait and switch that happens at the end of the issue. This sequence with its black and more black set the stage for The Morrigan to be super impressive and super important. So when the final revelation of the issue is sprung, it felt more shocking and significant. Which is just great comics.

WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions


  1. great stuff again here. i was also surprised at the amount of black space and how it really added to the atmospher of the comic. i also loved the "infinite canvas" style of the 2 pages showing Luci decending into hell and dropping out the other side

    1. Thanks again! Yeah, the descent into hell and reveal was brilliant comics, but I couldn't come up with anything to say about it other than "hey guys! look at this! it's great!" which I try not to do very often. I also loved the panel where Luci whispers to Amaterasu with it's clever sub panel and greyed-out colours. WicDiv is just full of wonderful little choices.