Friday, 13 February 2015

Deep Sequencing: Twisting The Knife

Or a look at how extra panel beats are used to guttering effect in Lazarus Vol. 2
By Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Santi Arcas

Lazarus is the Dystopian Science Fiction comic that feels too realistic to be fun. It tells the story of Forever Carlyle, the enhanced Lazarus enforcer for her family, in a future where obscenely wealthy families have carved up the world and rule over humanity. It's a comic about the logical extension of todays most worrisome trends. It's very good, and very horrific.

It is also a comic that has some great examples of the use of repetitive panels.

I am fascinated by the use of repetitive panels in comics. The practice of placing a series of panels with only slight differences in composition or action can lead to some pretty interesting storytelling mechanisms. It's really a unique and discrete comics tool. And Lazarus Vol. 2 does some really interesting things with repetitive panels worth taking a closer look at.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Lazarus Vol. 2 below.

The simplest, most obvious example of repetitive panels is all about reaction and emphasis. A panel shows a character in one position, and then something happens, and we see the character react. The similarity in panel composition let's the reader focus on the differences between panels, which in a character reaction shot really enhances the emotion of the moment. This works great in the above selection from Lazarus, where we really see Forever react to the awful, awful experience of being woken by an alarm. Because the panel repetition drives home the contrast between the peaceful sleeping Forever and the stunned, suddenly alert Forever we absolutely experience that blade of shock that comes with sudden wakefulness. It's an awful, awful feeling, but great comics.

Repetition in panels also has the effect of drawing out moments. Often, each panel in a comic is kind of like a unit of time; the more panels you see, the more time is being depicted. It's somewhat analogous to individual frames of film in a movie reel. So one of the things that can happen when several highly similar panels are used in a row, is that moments can stretch and feel longer than they might otherwise. This meditation scene is a great example of this: we get an establishing shot panel and then four, very similar panels in a row that make the scene feel especially long and especially still. Which is a great visual tag for meditation, which is really the act of spending long spans of time as still as possible as a way to quiet and focus the mind. It's a really smart page layout.

The time displacing effects of repetitive panels can really make moments feel heavier, more significant too. The woman being interrogated here is essentially powerless and in the hands of people who can, and will, do whatever they want with her. And yet, she takes the time to build herself up and tell them to fuck off. It's a powerful moment that I think works as well as it does because the use of repetitive panels creates a sense of time. And this sense of time shows that the woman had to work up to the moment, that it was a conscious utterance and not just a reckless, emotional reaction. It's a really masterful use of panel allocation for emotional effect.

One of my favourite things about Greg Rucka as a prose author is that he has this wonderful tendency to build up these emotional gut punch moments that are like knife blows to the soul. Just these perfectly delivered moments of awful that make you step back from the novel and chew on for a moment. With Michael Lark and Santi Arcas in Lazarus, we get that same soul-stabbing knife twist moments in comics form.

And these knife-twisting moments seem to rely on repetitive panel constructions to work. It seems like the combination of contrast and time stretching create this perfect storm for significant character moments. Like, take the above sequence. Forever has a weird relationship with her father; she has been conditioned to love him deeply, and yet she is also being taught that she is property, a weapon of the family. In the above sequence we see this entirely encapsulated in three repetitive panels. We see kind of a lovely moment of Forever embracing her father and then that moment ruined in this slow, awful way that emphasizes the grosser parts of her role in the family. This sequence absolutely guts me, and I think it comes down to how stretched out it is, how we get to see the entire arc of glee and rejection play out, and the sharp obvious contrast between the happy embracing Forever and the disappointed formal Forever. It's this perfect, significant moment, that uses repetitive panels to twist the knife in your soul.

Lazarus Vol. 2 is a great comic with some great use of repetitive panels which will give you feelings. You should check it out.

Lazarus Vol. 1
Lazarus Vol. 2

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