Monday, 16 February 2015

Eye on Hawkeye #21

Or breaking down the layers of storytelling in Hawkeye #21
by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, and Chris Eliopoulous; Marvel Comics

Hawkeye is the comic that first got me interested in writing about layouts and sequential storytelling. Every issue has some thing, some aspect of comics craft that is worth taking a closer look at. The newest issue (bro! new issue bro!) isn't an exception. There is a ton of really cool comics in Hawkeye #21, but there is one page in particular that I think is really interesting and instructive. So I'm going to try pulling it apart to uncover why I like it so much. 

There will be *SPOILERS* for Hawkeye #21.

Okay, so, this page here has its hooks in my brain. At first glance, it might not look particularly interesting. I mean, its Team Hawkguy comics, so it looks really nice and dynamic, but it didn't initially strike me as an especially complicated page. But... I kept coming back to it after I finished the issue and I think this page has a bunch of great, somewhat hidden choices that make it work extremely well. This is why I think this page has my attention.

Part of the magic of the page is it's context in the comic. The story of the page is a sneak attack, the first trap in Clint's home-brewed defence strategy, and represents the first blast of violence in the issue. It's the transition from the quiet of before the storm to the light and noise of conflict. Part of what made this page so effective for me was how surprising and unexpected it was. The previous pages showed the Tracksuit Draculas, the villains of the issue, pulling up, unpacking, and the first line of ragtag defenders fleeing their position in fear. The comic felt relentless, the villains an unstoppable tide of tracksuits. And then there is a page turn and suddenly burning coals are raining down on the villains in a shocking, visceral burst of pain and hope. The pacing of the hopeless page and the page turn work to instantly make this page feel more sudden and drastic right from the very first panel. 

The next element of this page that makes it so effective is the overall layout. To give this page a sense of gravity and height, which is critical to the story, the page uses long, tall panels in the top half of the page. These tall panels instantly change the sense of the page to a vertical orientation that creates space to make the falling, burning coals feel impactful. The use of the tall panels on the left and right side of the page has the additional effect of making the many panels in the middle of the page read as a single storytelling unit. This ensures we read these six panels in a group before proceeding to the right-side tall panel and makes the depicted moments feel simultaneous and quick. The choice of using many panels in this region of the page instead of a single tall one is also significant as it adds additional weight and drama to each impact and moment. Instead of being a single moment of collision, it is several discrete, jarring instances of pain and panic which makes this whole sequence feel more visceral and exciting. It's really effective comics.

I am also super impressed by how this page uses the natural motion of the eye and the order of panels to add drama and interest to the page. Because of the nifty layout on this page, the readers eye follows a lot of paths that emphasize the vertical motion of the action. We enter the page on the top left and instantly see the surprise of burning coals, and then quickly look down the panel, along the path of the falling objects as they rain down on the Draculas. Our eye motion is along the vector of the action which makes everything feel faster and more dramatic. We then, much like the Draculas, quickly look up to the very top of the composition and building and see Gil's dad dumping the grill's coals, which again couples eye motion to the experience of the characters inside the composition. Our eyes then rattle down the central collection of panels, always going down, but arresting in the chaos and pain of the impacts. This central reading path captures the overall motion of the action. In this section of the page we also encounter, and get the surprise of, arrows falling on the Tracksuit thugs, shot from somewhere above. Again, we glance up the page and in the far-right panel see Clint perched on the fire escape shooting arrows. This page does a fantastic job marrying eye motion to action and dolling out information in the most surprising yet organic way. It reads beautifully.

This page is also noteworthy in how colour is used to emphasize key aspects of the composition. The orange of the burning coals instantly grabs our attention when we enter the page and works throughout the page to catch our eye and help guide us through the page. Similarly the RED! backgrounds in the centre column of panels adds to the feelings of violence, pain, and shock to these panels. It's all really effective and adds a ton of atmosphere and information to the composition. Compare the coloured page to the grey-scaled page here: it lacks the emphasis of the orange flames and added emotional impact of the red panels and is a poorer page for it. Colour, it really matters!

So after spending some time with this page, it's really obvious that it is filled with really nifty comics. This is why I love trying to pull apart and analyze comics pages. There is so much craft that goes into every page of comics, so many little choices that work together and combine to make an effortless, and exciting seeming moment of action or drama or story. Hawkeye #21 is a great comic, filled with exciting, interesting pages like this. Read it, analyze it, pick it apart!

Eye on Hawkeye #18: Colours and setting.
Eye on Hawkeye #15: Composition, Layout, and colours.
Eye on Hawkeye #16: Smart layouts and chilling moods.
Eye on Hawkeye #14: Repetitive panels as a device.

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