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

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