by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics
The Wicked + The Divine #8 is an interesting comic. WicDiv #8 is, to put it bluntly, the comics manifestation of every truly great, truly Dionysian music/party experience I've ever had. It captures that slippery, whirling, pounding unreality of a beat and a binge and sex in an emotionally resonate way. It's pretty special.
WicDiv #8 is also a formally interesting comic that makes some pretty brash choices that help make the magic of the issue work. Some of which I'm really interested in unpacking.
There will be *SPOILERS* for WicDiv #8.
I am endlessly fascinated by this sequence. The pages depict Laura being "dosed" by Dionysius with his mood-altering party magic and represents the start of the festivities. It's a psychedelic moment in the story that is beautifully captured in a truly trippy bit of comics. The use of wild colours here is fantastic and an obvious part of the experience. But the thing that makes this sequence so effective for me is that I'm still not entirely sure what the correct panel order is for these pages.
What I do know is that this dosing sequence starts with doubtful Larua at the top left corner, moves somehow through the page, and eventually ends on supercharged Laura on the bottom right. The sequence as a clear and obvious start and finish, but a huge amount of ambiguity in the intended or best path to progress across these pages.
(Also file these pages under the category of phenomenal facial acting in comics. Geez.)
The overall design of the spread is built around this horizontal progression on a structural level. Going from top-left to bottom-right across the page are 1-2-3-4 counts. Functionally what this means is that there are bands of 1's, 2's, 3's and 4's that run perpendicular to the story flow and help reinforce the movement of the story from the left corner to the bottom right. This effect is solidified by the colours that progress through the visible spectrum and move across the page in the numbered bands. So, yeah, the overall flow the page is pretty well established.
What is less established is the correct order to read the actual panels of the sequence. I feel like there are two plausible ways of approaching panel order. Since the top panels on the right page clearly demand sequential reading, the panels must have some sort of order. The most likely order is treating the sequence as a single double page spread and simply reading from left-to-right down each tier of panels. I think you can also make the case that reading the sequence as two discrete pages with the panels meant to be read in the usual order. Regardless of which of these orders you subscribe to, the actual story you are reading is not appreciably different, which I think it is a pretty cool effect.
EDIT: Since publishing this online, the creators of WicDiv have kindly pointed out some elements on the page I missed that cement this as a double page spread instead of a pair of pages. These include the white boarders in the centre diagonal and the narrower panel gutter that runs along the binding. I'm going to leave the rest of this post the same, because it is my initial reading, and I think the confusion inherent in the post is kind of the point of the storytelling here. But, if you want the official take: this is a double page spread.
Any ambiguity in the reading path just serves to further the meandering, reality-warping feeling of the Dionysian experience and adds to the emotions of confusion and epiphany present on the Laura's face in the sequence. This spread does such a great job capturing the uncertainty and perception altering experience of being dosed by Dionysius.
Following the "dosing" page we get several pages with this common layout: The Party Layout. The Party Layout has the events of the story take place in four image panels squeezed between 1-2-3-4 counts all on an ever-changing, brilliantly coloured background. This is another obscenely smart comics choice. For one, this layout manages to be very quick to read because the story art and text only occupy half of each page. At the same time the pages feel very ordered: every page has the same overall layout squeezed between the regular visual beat of the 1-2-3-4. Taken together the page layout creates a rapid reading rhythm that captures that special energy of a club dancefloor: the racing moments and excitement framed by a pounding, captivating beat. These pages enhance this structural effect with the ever shifting colours, capturing the wild lighting of dance clubs and the unmooring of fixed reality of intoxication and euphoria. It's like the perfect visual representation of the auditory and kinetic experience of a club night.
It's also pretty interesting how this layout works in aggregate to generate some of the weird time effects of partying hard. The comic features several pages that adhere to this template in a row. The effect is one of displaced time: the reader is able to rapidly read the pages, but still covers a large area of page space, a rough surrogate for time. Which manages to create the partying feeling of being so intent on having fun that you lose track of time or the intoxicated feeling of losing narrative cohesion due to over-indulgence. The comic is also extra long, featuring more pages than average (Note: I think) which helps make the night bus scene at the end have that special super-extra-long-drawn-out-day-ness that I swear is unique to dragging yourself home after partying into the wee hours of the morning. This is some epic level emotional effects from page/issue logistics stuff.
And the colours alone!
WicDiv #8 is really an accomplished episode of comics.
WicDiv #1 and popart head-splosions
WicDiv #2 and the use of black-space
WicDiv #3 and character design
WicDiv #4 and body language
WicDiv#5 and facial acting
WicDiv #6 and possessions as character
WicDiv #7 and the power of lettering