Monday, 16 March 2015

Sentencing She-Hulk #10, #11, and #12

Or a look at a great double page spread in She-Hulk #10 and #11
by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, Munsta Vicente, Gus Pillsbury; Marvel Comics

I love comics that use unexpected and clever ways to encode extra information. I also love collaborative comics that showcase how every member of the creative team contributes to making bold storytelling choices work. She-Hulk routinely has a great double page spreads that exemplify both. Just these great flourishes of design that are just really interesting comics. Comics worth taking a closer look at.

This post has *SPOILERS* for She-Hulk #10  and #11 in it.

This super efficient double page spread from She-Hulk #10 conveys a ton of information in a really smart way. The story of the spread is that young Steve Rogers and his friend meet in New York and then travel by train to Los Angeles. And the way this is conveyed is perfectly clever and filled with comics goodness.

This page has a ton of layered collaborative tricks that makes it work in interesting ways. Broadly speaking the underlying design breaks the page into three storytelling zones: a triangular top section, a horizontal region bound by the train tracks, and a lower triangular section. The top section has drawings of the Brooklyn bridge and Empire State in the winter clearly establish the setting as New York, the train tracks then boldly signify rail travel, and the short sleaves and cinematic marquee in the bottom section depicts LA. This setting break is emphasized by the colouring which depicts old New York with a grey, grainy heavily muted colour like an old photograph but depicts LA in a warmer, sepia tone like old film. This colour shift helps to deliniate the two storytelling regions clearly. And then there is the lettering which interacts with the bold graphical elements, mainly the train tracks, to help guide the reader through the artwork in a manner that is counter-normal and adds a lot of cool effects. It's a great team effort.

What all of this does is make the page organically read in a weird way. Specifically the reader moves across the top of the page from left to right, and then down the tracks from right to left, before moving throgh the LA story portion left to right. This makes the reader travel an extra long way through the page which helps convey the emotional sense of distance and travelling. It also has the really cool effect of making the train tracks from New York to LA move East-to-West on North-to-South on the page like the actual journey. And in a cheeky bit of cleverness, the page has a decidedly "Z" shape to the reader route which is reflected in the "Mark of Zorro" marquee in LA which is totally fun. This is a fantastic page of comics.

She-Hulk #11 opens with some tremendous double-page spreads that make tremendous use of space, onomatopoeia, and design to magnify the events occurring in the pages. This first spread comes after a page turn and begins with Titania, the super-strong lady in purple, cold-cocking a surprised She-Hulk right off the page and through several walls. This spread, beyond being kind of beautiful, makes really great use of space to emphasize horizontal distance. Readers enter the page in the top left, get drawn into the circle shape of Titania's punch and then alone the sound effect and motion line of She-Hulk flying through the air and off the page. It's a quick journey left to right filled with surprise. Readers then shift down the page and read the "Titanium Blues" issue title which stretches from left to right across the whole width of the comic, which again results in rapid left to right eye path. Finally the reader carriage returns to the bottom row of panels and again cruises in a clean, uncluttered left to right pan along the flight path of She-Hulk as she tumbles through walls and offices. This way the reader has cruised across the full width of the comic three complete times following the original punch which really emphasizes just how far She-Hulk has flown from the blow. Which really emphasizes the force and drama of that punch. THWAMM!

Following another page turn the reader is confronted with another double-page spread that makes a thoughtful use of space to emphasize motion and action. In this case the larger canvas is used to emphasize vertical motion instead of horizontal, using tall narrow panels to change the orientation of events. Readers enter this layout in the top left in a panel where Titania snags Shulkie, pans down to Titania twirling She-Hulk by her leg and is thrown quickly to the top of the next panel column which mimics the motion depicted. The net column of panels is interesting in that the first image encountered is actually the final panel of a vertical sequence. The reader sees She-Hulk flying up off the page and then sees the preceding images of her smashing through the stories below and Titania's actual throw. By presenting these panels in reverse-chronological order this section of the page feels simultaneous, as if the events depicted are so fast that they cannot be presented in the normal order. It's like the comics equivalent of a sonic boom trailing a hypersonic jet. Also, by stacking these panels this section of the layout really sells the vertical orientation of the motion and sets the stage for the next region of the page. The last section of the layout takes the reader in a very clean, quick line from the top left with She-Hulk being launched from her office, over Manhattan at the apex of her flight, and down to her landing in the New Jersey Palisades. This part of the spread is interesting in that the reader path actually lies perpendicular to She-Hulk's flight path, and yet the details and iconography of her flight is so elegantly simplified that the reader can take it in as they progress from top left to bottom right. Which of course makes the page feel fairly quick. At the same time, the way that backsplash panel of She-Hulk in flight is sufficiently complicated that I found myself pausing on it and taking in the details for a moment, which for me is so amazingly evocative of that feeling of serene freefall. It's this moment of weightlessness and altitude that is just kind of perfect. This is a really, really cool chunk of comics.

This page from She-Hulk 12 is almost the polar opposite of the other double page spreads gathered here: perfect simplicity. While the other layouts are filled with complex guidelines and ornate layouts to capture complex storytelling or rapid motion, this double page spread distills everything down to a single perfect moment. Gone is the background. Gone is the design. All that remains is looming tidal wave of fearsome She-Hulk poised to crash down on Nightwatch hiding behind puny sibilant platitudes.  It's a breathless freezeframe of catharsis made all the better for it's scale and lack of distractions and cathartic ending to the series.

I hope She-Hulk is only in recess, because I am not ready for this concept and creative team to be adjourned.

She-Hulk #1: Fun layouts

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