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. 

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