Monday, 9 November 2015

Deep Sequencing: Odd-Y-Layouts

Or a look at the fusion of storytelling objectives and design in Ody-C Vol. 1
by Matt Fraction, Christian Ward, Chris Eliopoulus, Dee Cunniffe; Image Comics

One of the most remarkable things about comics, is just how effective square panels are. With just a few square panels in a row, a storyteller can create compelling stories that use sequence to impart time. Scaled up to a simple grid, and the storytelling potential becomes nearly endless: nine or twelve square panels on a page can tell virtually any kind of story in a clear, compelling way. All that being said, there are a limitless ways to structure a page, and by using innovative and unorthodox layouts, creators can layer additional story information and emotional impact into the fabric of their comics.

Ody-C Vol. 1 is a comic that aggressively adapts page layout to story to tell a more effective story. I think it's worth taking a look at some of my favourites.

There will be *SPOILERS* below.

This page here, while a lot simpler than most of Ody-C's innovative layouts, is a great proof of concept. The page broadly follows a normal square panel format and features a great forced perspective in the top half of the page of the Ody-C's crew falling into a pit prison in the plane of the page. The smart bit of layout here is the addition of four narrow panels that sit isometrically to the main panel in the top half of the page. What these panels do is really sell the forced perspective which really makes the reader experience that moment of plummeting to certain doom. The addition of panels here also adds complexity to this part of the composition which also increases the sense of chaos on the page. It's fairly simple, but really effective.

Here is another fun use of perspective and isometric panels to enhance storytelling. The bottom half of this double page spread shows the crew of the Ody-C using a space-battling ram to smash through a door. What's cool about this is the square grid panels get canted isometrically as the ram is deployed, so that we get to see and experience the ram physically breaking through something. But there is a lot more to like here. For one the path of the ramming is directly in the line of the reading path lending the scene extra force and a wonderful sense of momentum. And then there are also the interspersed panels of rammers which help sell the isometric panels (by providing an in-plane contrast), and which break up the ramming panels giving the sequence a quick slam-break-slam-break rhythm which is very evocative of the motion. Great stuff.

One of my favourite things about Ody-C, or really any Christian Ward comic I've read, is the use of circular layouts. This page here is a great example. The story of the page is that the Ody-C and it's crew land on a plant and meet the locals. The concentric rings of the page make the arrival itself the focal point of the page and place all of the other events under the general purview of that moment. It also focuses the readers attention along the plane of arrival down the page; the other peripheral details are present, but secondary to the cone of storytelling at the core of the page. What this does is make the moment feel bigger and grander: like the moment requires more documentation than just the core story. This page also makes me think, with it's shapes and bright colours, of a stain glass window, which is probably a me-thing, but also helps punch up the grandeur of the moment. It's pretty cool the kind of things that can happen when an artist steps away from grid based layouts.

I am also a pretty big fan of this extended composition. The page starts with a pretty basic, but smart layout: conventional looking rectangular panels squeezed between narrow, page spanning spaceship panels that sell the speed of Ody-C careening through space. What's great about this composition is that as the ships speed reaches some sort of unsafe threshold the fabric of the page begins to break down. The regular panels on the first double page spread begin to fall off the perpendicular or bleed together as the ship in motion skids dangerously along its small strip. And then you turn the page and enter a page that repeats the motif, but devoid of the original structure. The ship is going so rapidly and the situation is so fucked up that everything is warped and broken and the ship itself is skidding through the unreality of blank white space. It's a beautifully broken layout designed to convey just how uncontrolled and desperate the situation is. It is grand comics.


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