Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Waxing Philosophical: On Colourists

Or an economic argument for giving credit to colourists (circa 2014)
Colourists are an integral part of comics. When colouring is done well, colouring works with the pencils and inks to enhance the artwork and contribute to the final look of a comic. When done exceptionally well colouring can add a sense of style or mood or atmosphere that can be a major storytelling component of the comic. Colouring can do things, add effects, that other components of comics can't. Colouring matters.

As such Colourists should absolutely be credited creators on every title. Their contribution to the final product is just to obvious and important to not give them the credit they deserve. It is absolutely the right thing to do.

Sadly, we live in a world where morals often take a back seat to money and where many of the comics being published are made by corporations. Corporations, being economic group-entities that exist solely to create profit, are amoral sociopaths that, regardless of the good intentions of the people who work for them, only really care about what will make them money. But the thing is, I've done some maths, and I think there is economic value in crediting Colourists even for the largest most profit-focused publishing companies.

Now, some readers are going to read Batman regardless of which creators get assigned to the title. But another group of readers care about the creators working on titles. Like, I know that a book written by Matt Fraction or Kelly Sue DeConnick are probably going to be books I enjoy or that a book drawn by David Aja or Jamie McKelvie is going to look amazing regardless of who is writing the scripts. Having these creators on titles, on the cover of titles, and advertised in press releases makes me more likely to pick up a title. From a corporate perspective, involving and advertising these creators is money well spent. 

Even for less well known creators, the way writers and artists are advertised pays dividends. I learned that Ales Kot is a hell of a writer or that David Lopez is fantastic at making his characters just burst with life. I am now more likely to try comics by either of these creators after learning how talented they are. It is, essentially, an investment in the future.

So I thought to myself it would be interesting to actually do the maths on who colours my comics. To that end I went through all of the comics I've talked about so far in 2014 and plotted the colourists for my mainstream and creator-ownederish comics of the year. For the sake of focus, I just left out any black and white comics I read this year.

When I do this I get the above graphs for Mainstream comics (Left) and Creator-ownederish comics (Right). The black regions are comics that are coloured by the same artist doing the pencils. They are already credited and also usually work on one (or maybe a couple) comics at a time. The grey region are colourists who work on only a single title I am reading right now and whose names were largely unfamiliar to me when I started this process; they do not yet have a track record with me that I would actively read a comic because of their participation. The green region represents creators who I'm only reading one book by presently, but who have a track record with me personally such that their participation on a comic would make me more likely to try it. The other coloured regions are colourists who colour multiple books I am currently reading: Matt Wilson (Blue), Jordie Bellaire (Orange), Lee Loughridge (Red), Betty Breitwieser (Purple), Chris Chuckry (Dark Blue), and Dave Stewart (Dark Blue). To kind of put things in perspective the graph on the left has a total of 18 titles and the graph on the right has a total of 37 titles. 

If I stick everything together on a single graph you get this. Aren't graphs fun! But for reals, look at how unevenly distributed the Colourists I read are. 6 Colourists work on about 1/3 of the comics I read this year and 2 of them account for more than 20% of them. Add in the colourists who are also creators I actively seek out and nearly half the comics I read are by Colourists who I actively seek out. And these numbers are even higher if you don't count comics coloured by pencilling artists. 

At this point, and the maths back this up, I am actively seeking out series by my favourite colourists.  For me, certain Colourists have such a track record for doing great work and for working on quality, exciting projects that they are serious draws for me as a reader. When I first tried that fantastic comic Zero, written by Ales Kot and drawn by a series of talented artists, it was the presence of Jordie Bellaire as series colourist that put it over the edge for me and convinced me to actually try the comic. I tried Nu52 Wonder Woman largely because the addition of Matt Wilson meant it was worth a longer look. (Modern edit: I literally tried Vision only because Bellaire was the colourist, and was delighted to find one of my favourite new comics.)  Having a high profile colourists attached to a project is a great way to get me interested in it.

And here is another reality: Colourists can work on more titles than other creators. Generally speaking, a penciller will work on one comic title at a time, while a writer might work on something like four titles at a time. Which means that if I am following these types of creators, that's what, at most four titles per creator. Colourists, by the nature of their work, tend to work on more comics at once, which means that if I am following a colourist, that is maybe up to 6 to 10 titles I'd be interested in trying at a time. This number is even larger when you factor in their past body of work. By raising the profile of Colourists and actively advertising their presence on books, there is a whole other angle to try and attract creator centric readers. 

And really, advertising and obviously crediting and advertising Colourists doesn't substantially change the cost of a comic. Colourists have already been paid, whether by a page rate or by a share of ownership in the project. They are a very real draw for some readers, and like writers and pencillers are value invested in the price of a comic. To not leverage this value by crediting and advertising the presence of a top talent colourist is not capitalizing on money spent making a comic. To not advertise and help build the profile of lesser known Colourists is to not invest in the future value of the Colourist. There is money to be made here!

And you know, it's also totally the right thing to do.

Interrogating Black Widow #4

Or a look at some of my favourite storytelling in Black Widow #4
by Chris Samnee, Mark Waid, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna; Marvel Comics

Black Widow remains a very exciting comic to analyze from a comics wonk perspective. With issue #4 the creative team delivers another instalment filled with skillful and interesting storytelling. Unlike previous issues where I could find a worthwhile throughline to frame an analysis, Black Widow #4 showcases a pretty varied mix of techniques. So, I guess in honour of this being issue #4, I'm going to discuss four sequences that I find fascinating. 

There will be *SPOILERS* beyond this point.

1. I've talked about this before  but Team Widow is really, really good at creating dynamic sequences that use eye tracking to focus the reader and create a sense of motion. This sequence is another great example to this approach. The page opens with a panel that has the black silhouetted Widow in the bottom left corner, then uses the tank-things to create a guide to Widow in the top right panel. This gets the reader efficiently across the page and sets the stakes of the sequence: one covert agent against a place with sci-fi tanks. From the top right panel, the reader drops to the next panel where Black Widow tosses a stone, which guides the reader back to the left, across the page in a carriage-return, and into the next panel where the stone hits the guard. Action, movement, consequence. The reader then moves onto the following panel where distracted-guard is hauled bodily out of frame in a way that synchs the readers eye path to the motion. The following panel, with the guard running, uses the angle of the guards body (and implied motion) to create an arc to the alarm box and inset circular panel. We see the SHNK effect in the round panel, and then carry across the page, creating the down-and-to-the-left motion of the guard yanking the alarm lever. This brings the reader to the bottom left panel where the heavy black of Widow creates an initial focus point. The reader then moves down and through the knife thrust, using eyes and the blade as a guide, and smoothly into the final panel where the long blood smear takes the reader to the end of the page where Widow is dragging the corpses. It is also significant that this final panel's motion seems to carry right out of the panel and into the next page which helps keep the motion going (something that was pointed out in this great video breakdown). It's a great, efficient, and exciting page constructed out very fluid eye tracking. 

2. Another aspect of Black Widow I've talked about previously was the use of misdirection in panels to hide story elements in the periphery of panels. This page here has another pretty remarkable example of this. In this case the page opens with Black Widow and two corpses she dragged out of the previous page. Widow is looking up toward the next panel which gives a great guide to focus the reader on where to go next. The reader enters the next page and sees that the guard in the middle of the panel has a brighter colouring and is the most visually emphasized part of the panel. If you are a reader like me, you then move onto the next panel and see Widow breaking into a room and go, wait, what? And then you maybe loop back to the previous panel and find Widow hidden in the top right corner of the panel. She is drawn as a black silhouette blended into the shadow of the wall/turret. This makes widow another black area in a part of the page rich with identical heavy blacks and very easy, I think, to miss. Especially since the one guard is emphasized so prominently by the colours. This is a fantastic choice since it has Black Widow literally sneaking through the panel! Which is awesome!

3. Black Widow #4 also has a tremendous quiet section where a wounded Natasha speaks with Iosef, apparently a former teacher who rescued her. The entire sequence is a feat of acting and atmosphere and how to make exposition interesting, but this sequence here I think is superbly executed.

One of the key aspects of Black Widow for me, is that we do not get direct thought narration from Widow. Black Widow for me is defined as being supremely competent and vaguely mysterious. Making this work in a comic where she is the central character requires a certain degree of inaccessibility to the protagonist: we can't see her literal thoughts without losing that critical ambiguity. At the same time, for the story to be compelling the reader needs to have some glimpse of the protagonists inner life. Which puts a huge burden on character acting and colouring to provide enough emotional queues that the reader can engage with the protagonist. Black Widow absolutely nails this.

The other challenge of this kind of storytelling is conveying critical story information in visual, organic ways. This above sequence functions to show that Iosef and Widow know each other from the past. In a thought narration comic this would be accomplished, probably, by a caption like: "Ah, Iosef, my old teacher. I haven't seen him in years..." In Black Widow it is all about visual information. We see a flashback, made obvious by the sepia colouring of a faded photograph. In this flashback we see a recognizable Widow, although a younger version of her, with an unknown man. We then see an older man, haggard but still recognizably the same man probably. Which, is actually a pretty remarkable feat of figure drawing. The thing that removes any ambiguity, though, is how the two characters relate to each other.  Iosef and Widow have the same spatial relationship throughout the page with Widow prone and to the left of Iosef throughout the page. This is especially true of the top right and bottom right panels where the poses are nearly identical and create an obvious parallel. By the time we leave the page we understand the relationship between Iosef and Widow without it ever being explicitly stated and that is really, really smart storytelling.

4. From a purely comics wonk perspective I think this page, though, is my favourite in the issue. 

The top half of the page provides a sequence of Black Widow sneaking into a secure facility in a series of inset panels on a maze-motif background. This is a great choice because it uses the symbology of a maze to convey to the reader that Widow is forced to navigate a convoluted route to reach her objectives. This allows the reader to appreciate the time and complexity of Widow's implied movement without having to depict every step, which reduces the space needed for this chunk of story. The use of the maze motif is also pretty interesting because, for me at least, it calls to mind the wire lines of circuitry. This along with the perspective, I think, makes the round panel in the top left feel like a shot taken by a nearby security camera. Which implies, along with the earlier pulled alarm lever, that Black Widow has been observed by the masters of the base she is infiltrating. To me this is part of the comic telling the reader, without making it explicit, that Widow is sneaking into a trap of sorts. It's pretty cool stuff.

The bottom half of the page is where I think some really nifty, if easily overlooked choices are being made. The sequence here is pretty straightforward: Black Widow, having snuck her way to her goal stands behind a dramatically opening door. The execution here, the way the story is constructed, is perfect. The most obvious aspect of this is that as the door opens, the amount of open space in the panel increases. This is enhanced by the shape of the panels which are not square, but fall into a shape with a angled top. This means that as the doorway opens, the panels themselves become taller and more "open" to the reader. In addition the angled top line helps sell a sense of upward motion to pull the readers attention from bottom left to top right. (To get a sense of why this is effective, compare it to the diagram that does the same shot using static square panels.) This sequence uses yet another trick as well: the perspective of the panels ascends with the door. By this I mean each subsequent image is aimed a little higher along Widow's body (which I breakdown in the bottom diagram). What this does is create a sense of upward momentum to the sequence since the door and the perspective are both ascending at the same time to create the feeling of motion. (Again, comparison to the static square diagram will show just how much more dynamic the ascending perspective is.) This choice also has the additional advantage of letting the final panel focus on Widows determined/angry eyes. Which all combined makes this three panel sequence have a tremendous amount of momentum that all focuses on the Widow in an important, solid emotional beat before the next part of the story is unveiled. It's a fairly effortless reading chunk of story constructed out of some very smart, complicated storytelling and why I think Black Widow is such an exciting comic to read and analyze. 

As an aside, the maze motif also recently popped up in Bitch Planet #8 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles. In this sequence the characters are sneaking through a prison during a blackout to find a secret, isolated prison cell. Again the use of the maze motif is used to efficiently sell the idea of movement through a convoluted story space without investing a large amount of space to it. In this case, the maze motif is particularly apt because the characters are navigating in the dark from a hastily memorized map. It's a great choice that shows how convergent solutions to similar story challenges can exist.

Black Widow #1

Black Widow #2
Black Widow #3

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Deep Sequencing: Nameless and Speachless

Or a look at deliberate pause panels in The Nameless City
by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire; First Second Publishing

I recently listened to an interview podcast featuring Faith Erin Hicks talking about The Nameless City. (The Podcast was "Off Panel" and it's my favourite comics interview podcast right now.) While on this podcast Hicks remarked that she has "pages and pages of characters staring at each other", and that with her comics "you get about 50 pages of plot and 150 pages of people staring at each other." This is clearly an exaggeration, but I thought this was an interesting statement worth taking a look at. 

Upon an exhaustive review of The Nameless City the comic contains 1146 story panels and about 156 are what I would call "stare" panels (give or take a few). Which means that about 13% of comic panels in The Nameless City is devoted to "staring". Which isn't an insignificant amount of storytelling space, which makes me think this is a deliberate and important choice. And taking a look at it, it's pretty clear that Hicks is using these panels to shape storytelling and I think, to provide key characterization information to the reader. 

There may be *SPOILERS* for The Nameless City below.

The first, and I think most obvious role of the "stare" panels in The Nameless City is that it stretches moments. In comics panels are, among other things, units of time: each sequential panel marks a potential storytelling moment. The more panels a given action or situation is allotted, the longer that moment takes to read and the longer the moment feels to the reader. Straight forward, right? The inclusion of the "stare" panels can, and often does, function to add an extra moment to a given situation which can increase the perceived significance of the moment. Because in a comic, space is time is money and effort. It can also alter the flow of the story in significant ways. Like in the top situation the inclusion of the middle "stare" panel provides that awkward, queasy moment of silence and inaction that lends the declaration of cowardice some actual weight. Or, in the second selection, the inclusion of the middle "stare" panel creates an awkward pause that stretches the moment providing character information (the father and son don't really know each other) but also creates this great, awkward comedic beat. In both these cases removing the "stare" panel changes the pacing in a way that hurts the storytelling of the story.

Another important role of the "stare" panels is to inject emotion directly into the comic. The term "stare" panel is something of a misnomer, since the majority of them involve some pretty delightfully extreme emoting. Characters frown, or smirk, grimace, smile, horror, and make very nuanced, very particular expressions in these panels. These panels serve to blare emotions at the reader like in the above selection where Kai, the guy, is sending us WORRY/HORROR!. This gives us his emotional state of mind and sets the reader with the expectation that what Rat, the young woman, is doing is bad and a big deal. Other story media have the tenor of the actors voice or sound/music design to drive emotional context, and I think these emotive "stare" panels serve that same purpose in The Nameless City.

Beyond just being good storytelling, I think these "stare" panels do a lot to inform the reader about the characters of Kai and Rat. Specifically, I think the way these panels function as a pacing tool is important for Kai. Kai is a newcomer in a strange city who is inexperienced and a bit trepidatious about his new surroundings. He is also a thoughtful guy who seems to care about the consequences of his actions. What "stare" panels of him do is create these story pauses where we get to see Kai think. This means that when he is confronted with something new, rather than instinctually reacting to it, he stops and "stares" while he deliberates what to do next. Therefore the reader gets to experience the process of being Kai as he navigates his new home. This is the comic using a pacing tool to constantly demonstrate a fundamental aspect of one of the characters. Which is pretty cool.

(It's also maybe significant that the number of "stare"panels decreases sharply when Kai "does the thing" near the climax of the story. Resolution through layout.)


The "stare" panels are also really important for the character of Rat. In this case, I think the emoting aspect of these panels is super important for my conception of the character. Rat comports herself as a tough, streetwise person who is somewhat blasé about the feelings of others. But I get the sense that a lot of this is an act, a persona she puts on, and I get this sense largely from the emoting "stare" panels. These panels give this unguarded look at Rat as she reacts to hurting Kai's feelings, or having her prejudices confronted, or spotting a friend. It shows readers that despite the Rats tough persona, she does in fact care about those around her. Which means that my conception of Rat as a character is born out of the tension between what the character says about herself and how she emotes when no one but the reader is looking. Which is an extremely nuanced piece of storytelling that is achieved by "stare" panels.

Which is all, I think, a case for why "stare" panels comprise 13% of the comic panels.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Sussing Spider-Woman #8

Or a look at some of the great storytelling moments in Spider-Woman #8 
by Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez, Travis Lanham; Marvel Comics

I write about Spider-Woman and the role of eye-guiding in composition more than I probably should. I fear it's starting to get boring and repetitive! But the thing is, Spider-Woman continues to showcase some really innovative compositions that use eye-guiding and colours to generate really clever storytelling. And I think some of it is worth talking about. So hopefully you can bear with me and we can unpack what's cool about Spider-Woman #8.

There will, as always, be *SPOILERS*.


What I like about this sequence is what a nice, clear example of eye guiding composition it is. In the final three panels of the page the reader is drawn down, quickly up, and pulled back down again along the vectors of the motion. This sells the depicted action and creates a sense of drama to the moment. It's effective and works because of some really smart underlying storytelling.

This sequence is also nice in that it showcases a lot of basic elements that create the effect. The composition has narrow, tall panels that pull the storytelling into the vertical. The red, and particularly the black of Tiger Shark's gloves and Spider-Woman's pants and sleeves create tangent lines that steer the eye through the light/blue panels. Lettering is placed before and after motions so that you read narration, have the sudden appearance of Tiger Shark's arm, encounter more text, and then nothing until the cleverly oriented "SPLASH" onomatopoeia. This gives the panels a slow-fast-slow-fast rhythm which captures the arm-thrust, snag, capsize actions being depicted. Despite its apparent simplicity, this sequence is constructed of many storytelling elements working in concert.

These pages are worth looking at for a couple separate reasons.

The first is that it has a very complex fight scene that reads very well and also takes advantage of black costume elements as eye-guides. I've previously discussed what a smart, smart character design Spider-Woman's costume is from a storytelling perspective. The crux of my argument is that the black limbs naturally stand out on a coloured page and can be used to steer readers and frame action. In the fight scene on the left page the first panel uses the central body stripe of Tiger Shark's costume to pull you into the large, central panel. This panel depicts a snarling, chaotic dogfight between characters that uses a combination of the combatants costumes to lead the reader through the visual noise. In particular Spider-Woman's black legs and arms play a key role in providing visual cues on where the reader is supposed to turn their eyes to navigate the page. It's worth noting that the colouring here plays a huge role in this effect since Spider-Woman's limbs are the only true, 100% black elements in the panel. The black elements in Tiger Shark's costume have received a treatment of highlights that make them blue/grey which lessons their visual weight and allows Spider-Woman's limbs to stand out more. It's a really adept intersection of composition and colour.

(I can't help but wonder how much this of this power move results from having a penciller/colourist working on Spider-Woman.)

This composition is also pretty interesting in how it uses the left-to-right page transition. The action being depicted here is Tiger Shark snagging Spider-Woman's ankle and swinging her bodily into what looks like a trophy rack. What is cool is this action starts on the bottom panel of the left page and finishes in the top panel of the right page. What this does is take advantage of the very long carriage return when switching pages to create the sensation of Spider-Woman being swung. This is a super clever choice because the reader's eyes swing along the longest axis of the page and get drawn into the final drawing of the motion. This creates a huge amount of momentum both from utilizing reading motion and for how the motion carries through multiple panels to create weight. It is great stuff.

Another sequence that I think is worth taking a longer look at is the one where Spider-Woman has a conversation with her babysitter Roger. The concept of this sequence is that Roger calls Spider-Woman who is fighting Tiger Shark and giant squid monsters asking about random baby things. It's a fun section of the comic that uses the juxtaposition of trivial parental crap and titanic superheroics for yuks (and maybe to make a point about how parenting takes over your life). To make this juxtaposition work better Roger and baby are drawn over the superheroics in the same grand panel despite calling from another location. The aspect of this sequence that I think is worth paying attention to is how the colouring is used to distinguish that Roger-and-baby and Spider-Woman are in distinct from one another. This is accomplished by giving Roger-and-baby their own colouring: a flat, orange-tinged colouring with even lighting. This stands in contrast to the rest of the panel which is dark and shiny with rain, and is filled with highlights and shadows cast from a variety of light sources. The two colour palettes are so incompatible that it is immediately obvious that they are belong in different settings. Which is means that a colouring choice here is responsible for ket narrative information. 

Spider-Woman #8: turning down the background
Spider-Woman #7: the brilliance of the inset panel
Spider-Woman #6: Guided chaos and multiple reading paths
Spider-Woman #5: Character Design and composition

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Eye On Hawkeye: Aw, compilation, no.

Or a look at the complex curation of the Hawkeye Omnibus,
by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Matt Hollingsworth, Javier Pulido, Francesco Francavilla, Steve Lieber, Jesse Hamm, Chris Eliopoulos, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Paul Mounts, and Corey Petit; Marvel Comics

The craft of comic making involves a bunch of interrelated disciplines. There is artwork, obviously, a combination of drawing, inking, and colouring. There is writing the plot and scripting dialogue. And of course there is lettering, which marries the two. Combined this creates the storytelling of the actual comic. I spend the majority of my time on this blog trying to understand and discuss storytelling and the creative choices that create that. But this approach ignores another group of comics professionals who also contribute to the process in a much more silent way: the editors. This part of the team helps guide the story, fixes mistakes, coordinates the workflow of creators and probably does a million other things that as a reader I take for granted. A friend of mine who is an editor calls it an invisible discipline. 

I recently got the Hawkeye Omnibus as a gift and beyond being great (thank you spouse!), it's an interesting object to look at curation and the role of editors. Specifically, I want to talk about curation as part of storytelling and take a closer look at some of the choices in the Hawkeye Omnibus.

Yadda yadda yadda *SPOILERS*!

The Fraction/Aja/Wu/Hollingsworth/Elipoulos/etc run on Hawkeye is one of my favourite comics. It's also a comic that fundamentally changed how I write about and read comic books. As a critic/wonk this comic was a gateway to looking at storytelling as a process and was instrumental in shaping my voice as a comics writer. So I love this comic, and having the omnibus as a hardy, curated collection is pretty great.

Another thing about reading the curated collection is that it was remarkably different than reading the issues as they came out. When reading Hawkeye episodically there was so much expectation for the next issue and time for every moment and in-joke to percolate and be savoured. And there was a community of Hawkguys out there bro bro broing and hawkblocking and being great at boats and echoing my enthusiasm for the comic. Reading the entire comic in one sitting is a lot more solitary and small. The pace of the comic, the fact I could just move on to the next issue, maybe shrinks some of these moments. (Although, it could be that this is just a reread effect...) The omnibus does work great for showcasing the interconnectivity and thoughtful planning between issues though: Hawkeye is filled with foreshadowing, Checkov's guns, running jokes, and clever easter eggs that really standout when the comic is consumed all at once. I think there is maybe a lot to be said that episodic comic issues and collections might be separate mediums like tv and film. 

The Hawkeye Omnibus is obviously an artifact of curation. The publication of Hawkeye was pretty complicated. The comic had delays, rotating artists, issues published out of order, and an extra issue inserted into the process for charity. Some of the narrative was published out of chronological order and certain comics happened in overlapping time frames. So taking these issues and working them into a logical, definitive order involves a number of editorial choices.

For the most part I don't think there is necessarily an objectively correct choice. Like, take Hawkeye #7, the comic made to engage with Hurricane Sandy. The comic is set in late October but was released after the Christmas issue of Hawkeye (#6). It makes logical sense to put this issue in plot order and have the Hurricane Sandy issue come before the Xmas one. And yet, the Hurricane Sandy issue plays with the "Hawkguy" running joke which was introduced and explained in the Xmas issue. Following plot chronology instead of publication order creates a tiny story snarl. Or take Hawkeye #17, the Winter Holiday Animal Cartoon themed issue. It clearly slots into the story right after Xmas Hawkeye (#6) but was published much, much later. So again it makes plot sense to move it into its plot chronology. But then again, Holiday Cartoon Hawkeye has character parodies from deeper in the series and the entire issue deals with series themes rendered into the medium of winter holiday cartoons. So I found it really didn't hit the same encompassing celebration/summary/commentary notes when placed in an earlier reading order position. (The issue to me reads more like a late season flashback episode than a normal episode out of order, if that makes sense.) And then there are the concurrent Clint/Kate stories. Do they read best interspersed or read as discrete subchapters? Or do both orders work: interspersed in an omnibus, but discrete in smaller collections? I think a curator can make a compelling case for multiple ordering arrangements and that every possible arrangement of issues will come with storytelling tradeoffs.

That said, I do think there was one particularly bad curation choice in the Hawkeye Omnibus which was putting Young Avengers Presents #6 as the first issue/chapter of the collection.

I think every storytelling choice is made in attempt to serve a purpose. So there must be a reason that YAP #6 was chosen for inclusion in the Hawkeye Omnibus and for why it was made the first chapter. I think part of it is that YAP #6 was written by Matt Fraction and contains both Clint and Kate. As such the comic could be considered part of Fraction's grand body of work with the characters. (Which massively discounts the authorial stamp of the series' artists, but whatever.) YAP #6 is also a comic that deals with the fact that there are two Hawkeyes in the Marvel Universe, that Kate had taken the mantle while Clint was temporarily dead (comics!), and that the two hash it out and conclude that they can both be Hawkeye. So this issue does work as an introduction to the two characters and their kind of complicated relationship. So maybe the purpose of YAP #6 was to provide the reader with some context and clarity about what the Hawkeyes deal was.

But I don't think it actually provides narrative clarity or serves a storytelling purpose in the broader Hawkeye story.

Part of the problem is YAP #6 introduces a whole bunch of irrelevant and confusing information. Sure it has Clint and Kate and them dealing with both being Hawkeye, but it also has Patriot (who?), Clint as Ronin (what?), and deals with the complicated illegal vs sanctioned Avengers continuity post Mavel Civil War comics circa 2006 (why?). This is so much information that has no direct bearing on Hawkeye and I think creates more questions than it answers. It also introduces a pretty complicated Marvel Universe status quo that is wildly out of date and has zero bearing on Hawkeye, a comic which exists almost completely separate from the publisher's main continuity. Including YAP #6 to introduce Clint and Kate is like... me making someone watch the entirety of the Lord of the Rings films to show them that one of the guys from Flight of the Conchords plays an elf. 

Which is all the more confusing because the main Hawkeye series does a great job of introducing Clint and Kate. Hawkeye #1 is a nearly perfect first issue that, among other things, gives the reader all of the relevant information about who Clint is and what they need to know about his situation. Hawkeye #2 involves a murder circus and sets up some important series plot stuff, but also serves as an introduction to Kate, the fact that there are two Hawkeyes, and shows how the Hawkeye's relationship basically works. Essentially all of the relevant character information is contained in these two issues of the main Hawkeye run. These issues manage to do this efficiently and without any extraneous information, characters, or continuity baggage. Including YAP #6 doesn't include anything not covered better in Hawkeye #1-2 and is therefore a redundant inclusion. 


The other thing to consider about Hawkeye #1 is that it has a perfect first panel. The comic opens with Hawkeye falling backwards out of a broken window shooting a grapple-arrow while narration says "Okay..." "This looks bad." We see Clint as Hawkeye clearly in over his head. We see him faced with the peril of falling to his death, a big problem for him, but a trivial annoyance to to flying or indestructible Avenger teammates. It's an exciting, attention grabbing panel that establishes the thematic contract of the Hawkeye series in a single image (the Avenger who is just a guy). It's also, serendipitously, almost identical to one of the most icon Hawkeye moments in the Avengers movie, which gives this panel the magic power of being a familiar landing place for movie fans who might want to try a comic. Putting YAP #6 in front of this panel dilutes the effectiveness of this panel as an introduction which hurts the effectiveness of the Hawkeye series. It also makes the first images in the omnibus Kate and  Patriot (who?) having an awkward conversation in a carriage... which is a much worse way to open a series. This is just inexplicable storytelling.

There is also the significant fact that Young Avengers Presents #6 has a completely different aesthetic than Hawkeye. I love Alan Davis art because it is correct to, but his classic superhero style married to representative, gradient colours does not fit in with the actual Hawkeye comics. Hawkeye as a series features a diverse group of artists, and yet, largely from the consistent, minimalist flat colours of Hollingsworth, the comic manages to have a unified visual identity. Which is absolutely integral to the experience of reading Hawkeye. I cannot emphasize enough just how important the look of Hawkeye is to this series. For a readers first experience of Hawkeye to be a comic that radically diverges from the series artistically is a baffling choice.

So the Hawkeye Omnibus is kind of a mixed bag for me. I love having the series collected in a single edition and the curation within Hawkeye itself is consistent and logical. However, the inclusion of Young Avengers Presents #6 is perplexing and it's placement as the first comic in the book is nonsensical. YAP #6 is not part of Hawkeye and should, at best, be a bonus extra in the backup material. 

More broadly speaking, I think there is a lesson here about the role of editors and curation: when it is done well it is an invisible art, but when it is done poorly it is distracting and damages storytelling.

Eye on Hawkeye #18: Colours and setting.
Eye on Hawkeye #15: Composition, Layout, and colours.
Eye on Hawkeye #16: Smart layouts and chilling moods.
Eye on Hawkeye #14: Repetitive panels as a device.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Deep Sequencing: Deadly Clash Boom Bang

Or a look at onomatopoeia as visual element in Deadly Class Vol. 3 
by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge,  Rus Wooton; Image Comics

One of my favourite things about reading comics like a wonk is finding familiar devices used in interesting new ways. Comics are filled with conventions and common storytelling tools that are used and reused to convey a story in an effective way that readers can understand. A common language that allows many people to engage with the comic. What's cool is that these common tools can be rejiggered to do unexpected things or to do their expected things in especially clever or novel ways. Deadly Class Vol. 3 is one of these comics: it uses onomatopoeia in particularly visceral and visually dynamic way.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Deadly Class Vol. 3 below. 


The nifty thing about Deadly Class is how the motorcycle onomatopoeia is used. Motorcycles are noisy things, they sputter, rumble, and roar with a volume you feel in your guts. They have a look, certainly, and a particular mode of movement that can be represented in a visual way, but the sheer racket of the machines is integral to their experience. (Written as one blasts past in the distance.) The problem with comics is that capturing this noise in a silent, visual medium is challenging and conveying the tactile experience of the noise is even harder. What I love about this comic is it does an admirable job capturing these elements in a visually stylish and awesome way.

Part of the brilliance of this onomatopoeia is that the comic takes time to introduce its motif so that in the key sequences the reader recognizes it. The reader gets a kickstarted motorcycle "VROM" that ties the sound to the chopper and introduces the jagged zigzag motif of the sound in the stylized "V" and "M". There is then a sequence of the bad dude on the motorcycle cruising around causing mayhem that shows the jagged zigzag following the bike around. This again ties the sound motif to the motorcycle, as well as changes in the pitch of the zigzag according to what the biker is doing. When the motorcycle is moving slowly at a near idle it goes "V-V-V-V-V-V..." with discernible breaks in its rumble When it's racing the noise becomes a jagged sound wave that thrashes through the page like a tear. What this does is introduce the reader to the smart but unorthodox ways the motorcycle sound is being portrayed, so that when the most interesting sequence of sound happens the reader is already clued in and can just enjoy it. It's a very smart investment in storytelling space.

(Also, how great are the colours on the right page above? I love how the events that realistically take place within a fairly small space, essentially a single setting, get multiple colour palettes. The way the panel colours change here helps give the composition the feeling of movement, as if the biker moves so quickly that each panel deserves a semi-scene change. It's a small but savvy choice.)

The onomatopoeia use goes from smart to kind of magnificent in this sequence. Now that the reader understands that the zigzag motif represents the roar of a motorcycle, Team Deadly Class uses the sound effect to drive up the drama in this beautiful graphical way. The story of this sequence is that Maria, the fan-wielding lady with the calaveras makeup, is standing defiantly on a bridge while biker dude bears down on her in a cataclysmic final battle. The onomatopoeia plays a crucial role in conveying this information: since it has been established that the zigzag sound motif is a function of volume, it is used here to show the motorcycle growing louder as it approaches maria. It starts as distinct V's in a "V V V V V V V" as the motorcycle braps in the distance, but grows to a constant jagged sound wave as the motorcycle approaches, and eventually becomes a panel splitting rend in the page as the adversaries collide. It's motion conveyed through a static visual representation of sound... which is just fucking awesome. The onomatopoeia here is also impressive by how encompassing the sound wave gets: as the sound grows louder, the zigzag of its sound effect becomes less a noise read on panel and more of a fundamental part of the structure of the page that is impossible to ignore. It's visually deafening. Which is a great way of selling the earsplitting roar and the feel-it-in-your-guts vibration of a motorcycle screaming down on the reader: the sound ceases to be a discrete thing, but instead becomes a palpable part of the world itself. It is also a great way of bringing a degree of controlled visual chaos to the page: as the motorcycle races at Maria, the noise gets louder, and the page becomes wilder looking giving the proceedings an increase in tension. It's the feeling and effects of good sound design generated through static visual symbology.

Which is a lot of comics magic all coming from a simple, old fashioned comics sound effect used in a brilliant way. 

Deadly class colours
Deadly class layouts