Friday, 7 November 2014

Deep Sequencing: Finding Text

Or a great example of text box placement and eye guiding in Finder
by Carla Speed McNeil; Dark Horse Books

Finder is an absolute treasure of comics. It is simply, one of the most engrossing, quirky, and well made comics I have ever read. And there is a ton of it! Decades of these interlocking Sci-fi stories set in this imaginative, bizarre world. If I were to create a canon of comics everyone should read this series would be totally in it. Like, I can't emphasize how essential a comic Finder is.

But Finder is also quite interesting in that it is a comic with a singular creator. One person wrote the story, decided on the page layouts, drew, inked, and hand lettered all of the comics in this book. Which is a level of control that is not super common in this era of comics and streamlined publishing machinery. Now collaboration can make some really spectacular comics, where every team member is an expert at their portion of the comic making process, but some interesting comics happen when a single creator assembles the entire comic. And Finder is filled with great examples of this.

(That isn't to say that there isn't an editor involved who helped midwife the creative process, but my point here is that a single person conceived and assembled the story telling machinery of the book.)

There will be *SPOILERS* below.

Something I have really been interested in lately is the role lettering and text placement plays in adding to and controlling the flow of a comic. As a reader our eyes are drawn to the text, and as a result, text boxes can really affect how we navigate a page. When placed poorly, text becomes a distraction that takes away from the art and damages the reading experience. When done well, lettering becomes another tool that highlights key elements on the page or guides the eye through the page in certain interesting ways. Finder, which has the same person lettering (hand lettering!) the page as drawing and designing the page, has some great examples of lettering being used to do interesting and ambitious things.

This page is relatively simple but works because of the placement of the lettering. The chapter in Finder that this page is from is from Five Crazy Women, which is a dark humour story about Jaeger, the namesake Finder of the comic (and owner of the sexiest chest hair in all of comics), talks about some of his most crazy dating stories from his life as a wandering tomcat. On this page he relays his love of living in the wilderness and explains why he travels back to the city, which is for sexy women and processed baked goods. And the lettering makes the whole page work.

First the narration boxes stretch across the top of the page, which keeps your vision glued to the tree leaves on the page while Jaeger discusses his love of the wilderness, which keeps the readers mind on nature while they process the text. And then the three floating text boxes placed strategically around the woman on the page draw out eyes down the page and over the woman's body. Critically these narration captions are placed such that readers eyes pass over the nape of the woman's neck and ear, over her breasts, and along her hips and swell of her bum: these panels draw our eyes along paths that replicate the glances and experience of checking out a woman. Which helps sell Jaeger's desire for this woman and sexualizes her, which makes sense given the sexy nature of this particular story. Our eyes are then drawn to the letters surrounding the cake in the foreground. The lecherous glance of the previous narration sequence and artwork have already set the mood, so that when we arrive at the cake we understand that Jaeger has a nearly sexual desire for the cake as well. I would argue that the perfect placement of text and how it relates to the artwork in this page is a primary generator for the feelings of carnal lust and desire that arise from the page. It's really effective stuff.

Finder is more than just examples of simple, effective lettering choices. There are also all kinds of examples of much more advanced and complex uses of lettering. These pages here are both just great comics. The page on the left comes from a story about a young man whose mind is being used to generate a dream reality for hordes of escapist fans. In the page the main captions and art lead the reader through a sea of subtle text in the background which illustrate the chaos and fractured psyche of the protagonist. The page on the right uses multiple narrative streams with interspersed lettering to simultaneously portray the present story, the memories of the speaker, and his deep held guilt about the past. The chaos and collision of the different text boxes helps sell the emotional weight of the turmoil of the speaker and helps show how the guilt of the memories overrides the very reasonable rationalizations that are being provided to him. It is incredible what can be done with lettering when they are built directly into the page and when placement is used as a part of the storytelling mechanism.

So, as I said, Finder is a treasure trove of comics and is absolutely essential reading.

Post by Michael Bround

So I Read Finder

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