Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Deep Sequencing: Oggling Ody-C Vol. 2

Or a roundup of my favourite artwork and storytelling from Ody-C Vol. 2
by Matt Fraction, Christian Ward, and Chris Eliopoulos; Image Comics

Ody-C continues to be a kind of perplexing comics experience for me. It's clearly a comic, it uses the interaction of words and pictures to tell a story, but in a somewhat different mode than I'm used to coming from a mostly American, genre comics background. Ody-C, to me, skirts this fine line between a traditional comic that uses illustration to convey events and a lyrical/prose story accompanied and supported by illustration. When you add in the psychedelic, inventive artwork and the surreal, lyrical translation of the narration, Ody-C is a challenging and wonderfully unreal comic. It's definitely worth a look, if only to see something unexpected.

Ody-C is also, I think, interesting from the standpoint of execution. Team Ody-C commits some really innovative feats of comics storytelling that are lurid and instructive and, if you are a comics wonk, worth the price of admission. I feel that this is particularly true in the second volume, Sons of The Wolf, which, in my opinion, really shows the creative team growing into their collaboration and the story. If you were not swept away by the first Ody-C chapter/trade, a second look might be in order.

(Conversely, it's possible that I liked Vol. 2 more because I had a better idea of what I was in for and had tempered my expectations accordingly. Is it growth of the creators or the training of the reader, or both?)

This post is going to examine some of my favourite storytelling from Ody-C Volume 2.

There will be *SPOILERS* for Ody-C: Sons of the Wolf below.

The thing that so impresses me about Ody-C is the way the page is molded to the needs of the storytelling. The above examples, taken from a part of the comic that features a story read in a book, are one of the more simple, yet effective examples of this. In this part of the comic the panel shapes and layouts have been given shapes that evoke paper pages in an old, hardcover book. It's a choice that clearly delineates which part of the comic are occurring within the story-within-the-story which enhances clarity. It's also a choice that creates a motif, which gives this section an interesting visual flavour making this segment feel unique and special. This is all fairly straightforward, but is a nice, simple example of how Team Ody-C uses innovative flourishes to make a better reading experience.

Here are some other noteworthy examples of the use of flourishes to construct awesome, evocative moments. 

In the page on the left Ene the Conquerer is warned about Proteus, the leviathan monster who destroys all who try and leave the world she is trapped on. This monster has tremendous power, apparently over space and time, and this is conveyed in the structure of the page. The space panels around the monster warp, and when the leviathan attacks, it breaks the layout of the page itself. This choice instantly conveys what a fearsome, insurmountable challenge Proteus is. 

The right page shows Ene, who is trying to hunt Proteus on a kind of bone-strewn, charnel world, being overtaken by the animated/levitated bones that surround her. The conceit of the page has the bones of the world as white outlines, which blend seamlessly into the gutters of the comic. The page is also noteworthy in that it uses a 16 panel grid, one of the rare occasions the comic uses such a traditional approach. This is important because it means that the reader instantly understands how the page is supposed to work, and allows the bone-conceit to play out as the primary feature in violation of the underlying grid. The page is great in that it shows Ene and her company swallowed up the white of the bones and page, and, because of how Ene progresses across the grid, creates the sense of her being dragged down, down, down. It is a highly evocative page of comics that uses a cool idea coupled with a simple, clear layout to powerful effect. 

Another striking, highly dramatic sequence in Ody-C Vol. 2 is this double page spread. The story playing out here as the Sons of the Wolf, jilted by their respective husband and wife who have taken one another as lovers, slaughter there way through an orgy in a garden. This sequence is a visceral, emotional, page of madness and carnage that is brilliantly executed. The spread once again uses a simple grid layout so that the reader can easily navigate the page. This is very much a choice made to limit distractions and to allow the engines of the page to show through as clearly as possible. One of these engines is the juxtaposition of violence and beauty, tranquility and slaughter. The high panel count allows the comic to jump from severed body part to flower to act of horrific violence to plant, all the while milking the dissonance between these two extremes for dramatic effect. At the same time, the comic uses the visual similarity between a flowers bloom and a burst of blood, the garden and the violence to alternately taint the purity of the beauty and to show the aesthetics of the slaughter. It is a discombobulating and uncomfortable bit of comics. The other engine that drives this page is the use of colour. While most of Ody-C has this complex, nuanced, painted style filled with layered and complicated colours, this sequence uses flat colours in a tightly constrained palette making it visually distinct. The chosen colours, blue, green, and red are simple and stark and when juxtaposed and repeated are lurid and attention grabbing. This makes this sequence feel important and crazy and helps make every image land with maximum impact on the reader. This is a very effective span of comics and one uses a simple layout and dramatic colours to convey a truly horrific moment of insanity.

I think this final, two part example is my favourite storytelling from Ody-C Vol. 2. In the comic the Sons of the Wolf, although twin brothers, are raised separately and unaware of each other. As the story goes their drive, strength, and unnatural charisma leads them to become rulers and amass armies and go to war with each other. This is told and conveyed in part on this beautiful double page spread. I love how this page uses symmetry of design and colour motifs (blue for one brother, red for the other), to show how the Sons of the Wolf are opposed to one another but evenly matched. I also really appreciate that the swirling design manages to create a sense of conflict. Part of this is that the swirl creates paths for the brothers to march along, creating a sense of progression towards a central climatic conflict. I also like that it creates a tense, unbalanced feeling layout that despite its symmetry, feels like it could tear itself apart. It is, at a glance, a layout that conveys two equally matched foes coming to battle. And that is amazing comics. 

This sequence is closed by this page which shows the brothers fighting, discovering their identities, and reconciling to form an empire building alliance. It is a great page. For one the page uses long, apposed motion of the sword swings break through the plane of symmetry created in the previous spread, to violate the balance of the page to show the brothers coming together. This page is also smart in how it uses the arrow created by the crossing blades and moon(/sun?) backlight circle to emphasize the hugging brothers on the bottom of the page. This makes this feel like the most significant moment on the page. I also love how the brothers hugging become this balance point for the rest of the page, a kind of foundation for a layout that feels more secure than what came before. The story transitions from symmetrical, unbalanced layout to a page that crosses over and finds a new, more steady state of rest. It is a very great segment of storytelling.

This is just a random sampling of the moments I found most interesting or useful to talk about as a comics wonk. Ody-C is filled with these kinds of bold storytelling choices that are worth checking out as well as moments that, while maybe less technically involved, are just glorious pictures to look at. If the artwork in a comic is important to you, Ody-C: Sons of the Wolf is a comic you should read.


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