Friday, 5 December 2014

Deep Sequencing: Pretty Mouthy

Or a look at the expressive mouths of Pretty Deadly,
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics.

I really, really enjoyed Pretty Deadly. It is a fantastic story that is brought to life with such a wealth of innovation and courage. This is a comic just filled with great comics and as someone who just loves to pick over sequential art I can just stare at it for hours. I documented a lot of my favourite things about Pretty Deadly already, but there is at least one more facet of Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 that I think bears closer examination. And that is the way Emma Rios and Team Deadly use mouths.

People are wired to understand faces. There is a huge wealth of information deposited on our fez about our emotional state, and we devote a truly impressive amount of brain power and motorcortex real estate to making the millions of subtle, variable expressions of our faces. We also devote a similar amount of brain resources to studying, decoding, and understanding the expression changes on other people's faces. This is a major way people communicate with each other. The vocabulary of this communication is carried through a wide array of facial features and moving parts including the eyes or the shape of the brow. But a key component of facial expression communication is the mouth.

And I would argue the mouth is under utilized in comics story telling.

For whatever reason, probably that drawing a convincing mouth and not having it look disgusting is difficult, I don't often see mouths utilized as the primary focus of panels. While there are certainly some artists that use mouths effectively in the context of faces (McKelvie and Cloonan for instance), Emma Rios and the rest of Team Deadly actually make mouths the primary emotional focus of a lot of their storytelling in Pretty Deadly. And it is a really, really effective choice that carries tremendous emotional impact and a decidedly visceral edge. I think it is absolutely taking a longer look at.

For lack of a better approach, I harvested every mouth primary panel from Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 and stacked them in chronological order. Nothing was cropped down from a larger panel; these are all more or less how they appear in the comic. I just want you to look at them, and just feel the passion, the anger, the cool disdain, the pain, and the catharsis encoded in literally just the mouths of the portrayed characters.

There will of course be *SPOILERS* below. So go read Pretty Deadly.

It's really effective isn't it! I suspect you were able to experience the emotion of every panel and a pretty reasonable facsimile of the entire emotional arch of Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 just by studying the mouths.

Actually, it occurs to me that the mouth panels chosen here almost tell a complete story unto themselves. Admittedly, one with a different shape than Pretty Deadly. But... okay. I can see a story here where a red haired man and black haired woman are lovers. Then they have some sort of fight (maybe jealousy over alleged infidelity on the part of the woman?). The woman cuts her face in a way that mocks the accuser, and the red haired man kills her. Some time later the woman comes back as a spectre and haunts the now old, grey haired man. They have some sort of altercation that somehow ends in ghost-lady reaching catharsis and leaving. Or maybe not. The point here is less the story I've concocted and more that with JUST THE MOUTHS of Pretty Deadly you can construct a cohesive narrative. That is remarkable.

Emma Rios and Team Deadly do a fantastic job in this comic.

More comics ought to utilize mouths as a principle point for communicating emotion.

Post by Michael Bround


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