Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Worshipping The Wicked + The Divine #19

Or an attempt to explain the quiet brilliance of lighting in WicDiv #19
by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

The thing I struggle to write about the most in comics is colouring. Colouring is obviously an important aspect of comics; fleshing out the world, influencing the mood of the story, and frequently participating directly in storytelling. It is absolutely integral to comics. Colouring is also obviously a craft filled with meticulous choices by creative experts. And I think there is valuable insight in talking about the thought process underlying colouring decisions. When colouring is participating in storytelling by doing something unorthodox or obviously deliberate, it can be fairly straightforward to analyze and build an essay around. But a lot of the time colouring is kind of subtle, something that permeates the composition but is so... there... that it can maybe be taken for granted as a creative choice. It's like... colour in the real world: filled with beauty and information, but easy to not dwell on directly. And I think that ignoring the way colouring, even the more subtle aspects of it, builds the comic world is a mistake.

So bearing all of that in mind, I think WicDiv #19 is subtly a masterwork in comics colouring.

There will be *SPOILERS* for WicDiv #19 below.

An aspect of colouring that I feel doesn't get it's due is lighting. (And I say this as someone who has never written an article on lighting.) Lighting in visual media can be as simple as making things seem real, since real-life human vision experiences highlights and shadows. An absence of attention to light sources can, with certain styles of pencils, distractingly deviate from our expectations. Lighting can also add certain elements of mood. On a simple note, cultural/biological training means people are trained to view bright things as cheerful and safe and darkness as uncomfortable or dangerous. The way lighting is used can dramatically change the experience of art. And, in a coloured comic, the light quality is governed by colour choice and how the shading of those colours are effected by light sources more than anything else.

Take the above selection which shows Dionysus being dragged out of a cheap-looking takeaway restaurant into the shadowy underground. The sequence first shows the fluorescent lighting of the restaurant, with its institutional even lighting causing soft highlights and shadows. Then the comic switches to the Underground, a virtually lightless world of shadowy, desaturated figures. Portraying the Underground as greyed-out characters on a black background is an inspired choice because it replicates human night vision. Human night vision is effectively colourblind since the most sensitive light sensing cells of the eye operates on a light/no-light binary; designing a colour palette that is true to that sells the darkness of the location and helps make the comic feel more real. The choice of plunging the Underground in a nightvision darkness also, I think, plays into making this location feel desperate, paranoid, and hidden which helps inform the mental state of the characters. All of this lighting collectively provides a clear scene change break, but also helps cement the Underground as a real and particular kind of place. 

(Looking at this sequence again makes me wonder to what extent the WicDiv use of the Underground is inspired by the use of the London Underground as a bomb shelter during WW2...)

An area of particular strength in WicDiv #19 is the use of discrete light sources. Because so much of the comic occurs in low lighting, light sources stand out more than they would in a brighter comic. The above selection has one very obvious light source in the third panel, where the green light from the owl's projector eye is especially apparent. In this panel, the path, highlights, and shadows of the light are apparent. In addition, the open doorway throughout the composition is a source of blue/white light that influences the overall colour and the highlights of all of the depicted characters in the scene. What is great about this selection, is that you can see how the system of highlights and shadows change in response to the two light sources above. It's such an effortless thing to read through, but dealt with in a granular, deliberate way it becomes apparent how much thought must have gone into crafting the lighting in this sequence.

I kind of can't get over how effortless the execution of these multiple light source sequences are in WicDiv #19. Like, this page here has diffuse green projector glow, a dark panel, and then panels governed by the concentric glow of a cigarette. Which again, is a lot of visual information for the colourist to build into the page. On top of that, this sequence does such smart things with the colour. In the top row of panels, Gentle Annie is suffused with an otherworldly green glow, while vicious Badb is plunged into darkness. This, I think, captures the differences and transition between personas. The next panels are governed by Persephone's cigarette, which in the third panel give her visual primacy. This gives he a kind of leader-type-feel and, by planting the reader's attention so firmly on Persephone, sets the pacing for the final dramatic beat of the comic. This is all really smart storytelling predicated largely on the use shadows and light sources. Which again, is so subtle but so smart.

And in amazing burying the lead news, WicDiv #19 also has a drag out battle between the gods in the darkness of the underground. Which is really just a total fucking light show, since so many of the gods have powers that involve glowing things. Baal is throwing out white-blue lighting, Persephone controls glowing green tendrils, Amaterasu flies like a radiant sun, Woden and company have fluorescent Tron armour, and Baphomet is laying about with a big flaming stick. It is a riot of different light sources throwing out highlights and shadows interacting in a complex, motion heavy scene. Making this lighting mess visually sensical and effortless is truly epic comics colouring. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Interrogating Black Widow #3

Or a look at out of focus storytelling in Black Widow #3
by Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, Matthew Wilson, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Something that I've really enjoyed about the current iteration of Black Widow is how the creative team uses eye guiding to enhance storytelling. You might be tired of hearing me bang on about this, but I think it's really cool how eye guiding can be used to highlight key features of a page, pace the story, and to create a tangible sense of motion to make action feel more kinetic. When done well, like it so often is in Black Widow, it's amazing. Black Widow #3 puts an interesting twist on this kind of storytelling by not only calling the reader's attention to key elements of the composition, but by also bypassing other important moments in the page to create earned surprises. It is a really cool twist on eye guiding and I want to unpack a couple examples from the issue here.

There will be *SPOILERS* below. 

The first use of subterfuge-guiding in Black Widow #3 is this sequence of Black Widow being pursued through a crowd by a SHIELD agent. First of all it's a great example of eye guiding in comics. The page uses sight lines and speech bubbles to bring the reader across the top row, and uses the held wire in the top-right panel to orient the carriage return. The reader then encounters Black widow observing her tail which transitions into a crowd scene that uses colour and inset panels to show the agent, Black Widow, and her actions. This row is particularly interesting because it uses the tangents of the wire to nudge the reader to Black Widow and to swing the reader into the next panel where the character is tripped! The final panel uses the crowd to push the reader to the agent and his dialogue before the reader leaves the page. It's a pretty great composition.

On the next page Black Widow is wearing a disguise that she got from somewhere... Or maybe you noticed the one-armed naked mannikin at the very end of the page. Regardless, the key story snippet, the disguise itself, is buried in the composition in plain sight. The reader can see it, but because it isn't emphasized by the eye guiding, perhaps even hidden behind the emphasized Black Widow, it initially appears like background set dressing. It isn't until the nude mannikin or the disguise at the airport that the outfit in the window becomes important. Which is a neat trick because it allows the comic to deploy a little surprise that is constructed out of information available to the reader. 


A simpler, and maybe more directly relevant of subterfuge-guiding is this sequence. On this page, Black Widow garrotes a guard, sees a child or maybe memory of her childhood through a window, and then is surprisingly struck by the guard she was in the process of subduing. The eye guiding on this page is relatively straight forward, with clear east-to-west moves before a carriage return that heavily emphasizes the bright window with the girl in it. The page then takes a clear turn into the motion of the guard striking black widow using the shape of their arms and the onomatopoeia to pull the reader through the motion. What's cool about this sequence is that the girl-in-the-window panel is highlighted so much that it distracted me from the more peripheral elements of that panel. This meant that I didn't notice that the guard is depicted getting his hand under the garrotte wire and is escaping from the distracted Widow. As a result, when the guard strikes Black Widow in the final panel it was surprising and, because I could double back to the preceding panel, it felt earned and satisfying. Which is really fantastic storytelling: in the same way Widow is distracted from noticing the guard escape because of what she is seeing, the reader is also distracted from seeing the guard escape. It's using emphasis and slight-of-hand to generate the experience of the protagonist in the reader. 

Black Widow #1

Black Widow #2

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Service Update: Sick Day

No update this week... again

Sorry everyone. I got back from my vacation and came down the the ur-cold. The cold that shattered Pangea and killed the dinosaurs and sunk Atlantis and now stalks the airways to strike down unwary travellers. Unfortunately my wife also has the ur-cold. Our baby who already had it and gave it to us, and was basically mostly okay and open to adventures when she had it, has decided to take advantage of parental weakness. She has discovered a new game called doing what she isn't allowed to provoke a reaction. Which she finds hilarious (and which problematically kind of is). So, uh, no updates? Things should resume next week. 

(Is it normal for babies who are 9 months old to already be testing social boundaries like this? I though we would have more time...)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Service Update: Vacation

No post this week.

Hi all, I'm on a much deserved vacation. Which means there will not be a post this week. Sorry! Regular posts will resume next week.